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Nuclear Deterrence?

The RNC has a new commercial out that attempts to hit Barack Obama on the energy issue:


This is not a terrifically effective spot. It makes McCain’s platform seem haphazard and contradictory. (Conservation. Drill! Drill! Drill! Alternative Fuels. Oil! Oil! Oil!).

Nevertheless, I do tend to agree with Larry Kudlow that the offshore drilling debate could be a wedge issue if framed effectively. Kudlow’s framing, which rah-rahs the profit motive and calls for deregulation, is precisely 180 degrees removed from where the Republicans want to go with this one. But by couching their argument in more populist, Hillary Clintonesque tones, they might be able to portray Obama as being overvague and out of touch.

To that end, it is interesting that both this commercial and Kudlow’s column call Obama anti-nuclear. Obama’s position on nuclear power has been a little amorphous, but it is not clear that he is anti-nuclear. On the contrary, he took some flack from progressives on the nuclear power issue during the primaries, and his position — sometimes hedged more than others — has generally been that nuclear power is “worth considering”.

It seems to me, then, that the Republicans are trying to preempt Obama from getting behind nuclear power more seriously. The problem with offshore drilling — apart from its environmental impacts — is that it will likely take at least 20 years before it adds materially to our refinement capacity. By contrast, although it depends significantly on reactor design, a nuclear power facility could come online in perhaps half that time. So nuclear power is a pretty interesting trump card to the offshore drilling issue: greener, faster, and for the first time in a while, supported by pluralities or majorities of the public.

The Republicans seem interested in taking the nuclear card off the table. That does not necessarily mean that Obama should play it. But I do think he’ll need a little more substance on this issue, be it by embracing nuclear power, engineering some sort of targeted transportation tax credit that helps lower-income families with long commutes to work but also incentivizes mass transit, embracing RFK Jr.’s plan, or simply deciding that this will be the issue where he takes a tough love stance and uses that as a branding parlay. The Republicans will eventually put together a better commercial on the issue, and Obama will need some kind of reply.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.