On a day in which both presidential campaigns focused all their rhetorical might on debating energy production, Barack Obama claimed the most iconic moment. The quote was so lacerating, John McCain's own campaign immediately sent out a response to reporters, hoping to blunt its impact.
But since McCain aides had been twisting the truth on Obama's energy policy all day long, it's far from clear that the GOP can spin this line their way too.
Speaking to a crowd in Berea, Ohio, Obama went off on a riff, laughing at Republicans who are isolating his call for tire inflation as the linchpin of his energy plan. After noting that his energy policy has a lot more to it, Obama circled back to wonder why Republicans were choosing to mock an idea, small though it was, that could actually help matters.
"Now two points," Obama told the crowd. "One, they know they're lying about what my energy plan is, but the other thing is they're making fun of a step that every expert says would absolutely reduce our oil consumption by three to four percent. It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant." At that point, the crowd let out a collective laugh. A couple lines later, Obama had them on their feet.
The McCain campaign couldn't resist taking these remarks out of context. Spokesman Tucker Bounds wrote in an email: "Please see our campaign's response to Senator Barack Obama's insistence that if Americans simply inflated their car tires it would be a more effective solution to America's energy crisis than expanding our domestic oil drilling capability."
All well and good, except that's not what Obama actually said in Ohio on Tuesday. (He has previously, and ABC's Jake Tapper caught him out on it, but not today.) The narrow quote Bounds takes from Obama -- "we would actually probably save more oil than all the oil that we'd get from John McCain drilling" -- is meant to suggest that Obama believes efficiency savings from tire inflation could outstrip all hypothetical offshore drilling, a claim for which there is no hard evidence. But, traveling past the place where Bounds chooses to stop quoting, it's clear Obama was not making his exaggerated past claim again, but rather setting up a joke.
In full, Obama's sentence reads: "I said you could inflate your tires to the proper levels, and that if everybody in America inflated their tires to the proper level, we would actually probably save more oil than all the oil that we'd get from John McCain drilling right below his feet, wherever he was actually going to drill."
Obama was referencing a dig at McCain from earlier in the day. As CNN reported Tuesday:
"Instead of offering a real plan to lower gas prices, the only energy plan that he's really promoting is more drilling," Obama told supporters at a town hall meeting in Ohio. "That's what he talked about yesterday. I want to drill here. I want to drill now. I don't know where he was standing. I think he was in a building somewhere."
But twisting Obama's remarks on energy was something of a playbook in the McCain campaign all day long.
At a nuclear power plant in Michigan, McCain himself made the claim that "Senator Obama has said that expanding our nuclear power plants 'doesn't make sense for America.'"
That's a downright dishonest reading of what Obama actually said during his July 24 speech on renewable energy.
"Meanwhile, the oil companies already own drilling rights to 68 million acres of federal lands, onshore and offshore, that they haven't touched. 68 million acres that have the potential to nearly double America's total oil production, and John McCain wants to give them more. Well that might make sense in Washington, but it doesn't make sense for America. In fact, it makes about as much sense as his proposal to build 45 new nuclear reactors without a plan to store the waste some place other than right here at Yucca Mountain."
As the Obama campaign noted in its own press release today, Obama is not dead set against bringing more nuclear plants online. He just wants a better plan in place to deal with spent fuel before that happens. That balanced approach actually earned Obama some grief from John Edwards in primary season.
The "menu of options" Obama advocated then sounds an awful lot like the "all of the above" rhetoric on energy solutions that McCain pressed today. But you'd never know it from McCain economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin, who, on yet another conference call with reporters, said: "[Obama] has said no to nuclear power. He has said no to domestic supply on all fronts. ... He is happier with higher gas prices."
After all of that distortion, perhaps Obama was owed the opportunity for a sharp comeback on the topic of ignorance.