When the lights go dark, this is what Gov. Gray Davis wants us to see: President Bush and V.P. Dick Cheney smirking as their Texas pals make off with our money.
Shutting down power and killing jobs on their way out the door.
This is pre-summer, a time for creating images that will stay with us through the blackout season and into next year's elections.
The image Davis is trying to implant in our senses is that of the president and the power profiteers in collusion. Texans in cahoots. Bush and the bullies.
Actually, it's an easy portrait to paint--an oil landscape with these scenes reflecting reality:
Bush and Cheney come from Texas oil backgrounds. Texas energy companies bankroll Bush running for president. The companies hit a gusher in California's botched deregulation. Our electricity costs soar from $7 billion in 1999 to $27 billion in 2000 and may top $60 billion this year. Supply and demand? Demand increased less than 4% last year.
Davis pleads for temporary wholesale price caps. Bush and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission won't hear of it. They also ignore California's findings of $6.3 billion in gouging.
Davis has been drawing this picture with increasing fervor--in a Washington Post op-ed piece, in Saturday's official Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address, in Q&As:
"Where is that money going? Simply put, into the pockets of the generators and marketers . . . many of them located in Texas. . . .
"Mr. President, with all due respect, I urge you to stand up to your friends in the energy business and exercise the federal government's exclusive responsibility to ensure energy prices are reasonable. . . .
"Californians want to know whether you're going to be on their side. . . . You're allowing the price-gouging energy companies to get away with murder."
Independent pollster Mark Baldassare puts it in context: "We're at the point in this crisis where people soon will begin to reassign blame."
Until now, fingers have been pointed at past actors--former Gov. Pete Wilson, the 1996 Legislature, the private utilities. Now, present performances are being scrutinized--not only Bush's, but especially Davis'. He's vulnerable for having reacted slowly to the emerging crisis last summer.