Barring another 9/11 attack or the collapse of America's financial system, the dominant issue in the presidential race will be the sky-high cost of energy and its ruinous effect on the economy.
Barack Obama gets it even if his Democratic colleagues in Congress remain clueless.
Last Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, over the loud objections of Republican members, gaveled the House of Representatives into summer silence without allowing a vote on repealing the congressional ban on off-shore oil drilling.
Clearly, Speaker Pelosi didn't want her Democratic colleagues forced into a vote to oppose off-shore drilling before they headed home to explain to their constituents what a great job they're doing in Washington.
Within hours, Obama separated himself from the Democratic leaders in Congress by announcing he would support off-shore drilling in conjunction with a bipartisan commitment to conservation and alternate fuel production.
This shows that the savvy Obama knows how to read polls and that he was worried about being outflanked by John McCain on this critical issue.
His Favre-like flip-flop caught just about everyone by surprise, including Obama's media gurus, who were running TV ads promoting Obama's energy plan that failed to mention his new-found embrace of off-shore drilling. It's time to re-edit those ads!
Before embracing off-shore drilling, Obama tore a page from the Jim Doyle playbook by calling for $1,000 rebates to American consumers from "Big Oil." The lanky Illinois senator may yet back off from the demagogic rhetoric once he realizes most Americans put more blame for the energy mess on do-nothing politicians in Washington than "Big Oil" executives.
To his credit, McCain realized the potency of the energy issue weeks ago and started hammering Obama on his opposition to drilling off-shore and in the continental lands. Maybe that explains how Obama's nine-point lead in the polls before his European trip melted away to a virtual tie with McCain within days of his return to the States.
What McCain has realized, and what Obama has slowly begun to awaken to, is that America needs a balanced and comprehensive approach that will put us back on the path to energy independence and economic growth. That includes a major emphasis on exploring and drilling for more crude oil offshore, in Alaska and in our Western states.
Yes, a thoughtful long-term energy policy has to include conservation, alternative fuels, nuclear power and whatever scientific advances can offer in the way of fuels we're not even talking about right now.
But the bottom line remains our need to pump our own oil. Experts say the "Balkan Formation" two miles below western North Dakota could yield between 270 and 500 billion barrels of crude oil. The famed North Slope of Alaska that Congress and President Clinton put off-limits in the 1990s has, by comparison, about 60 billion barrels of crude.
There are perhaps another 25-30 billion barrels waiting to be extracted off our shores.
To put these amounts in perspective, current proven crude oil reserves for the United States, the world's third-largest producer of crude oil, stand at around 30 billion barrels.
Clearly, America's untapped crude oil reserves could easily serve our needs for decades and end our dependence on foreign energy suppliers.
Sure, we need to start moving away from fossil fuels. But that conversion will take decades. More to the point, Americans are hurting right now when they pay for gasoline, home heating, sharply rising food prices and everything else that has to be transported by $4-a-gallon gas.
Al Gore says America should commit to wind and solar as our primary energy sources and claims we can do it within 10 years. T. Boone Pickens says America "can't drill itself out of this crisis." Mayor Dave, meanwhile, wants us to have "car-light" neighborhoods.
When I see wind or solar power lift a Boeing 777 into the air or pull a 100-car freight train down the track, I'll become a believer. Until then, let's fire up the drills and stop thinking we're going to put sails on top of our cars to glide down the Beltline.
Indeed, the last thing Americans want right now is another pie-in-the-sky lecture about conservation. They understand that a reliable, home-grown supply of crude oil reserves is absolutely necessary for the expansion of the American economy for the foreseeable future - no matter what silliness may gush forth from the likes of Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, Jim Doyle or Mayor Dave.
So Mayor Dave wants to build a "car-light" neighborhood on Madison's northeast side because he saw something similar on a recent trip to Freiburg, Germany? How ridiculous! Unlike the United States, Europe is very compact with dense population centers. Check it out on a map, mayor: What makes sense in Europe doesn't necessarily make sense in Madison.
Further, the next time you travel to Germany on someone else's nickel, have fun, drink more beer, enjoy the Cuban cigars and leave the wacky ideas over there.
Rick Berg is a freelance writer and political commentator.