No oil for war

A mailer from Congressman Dan Lungren strays off message. Or does it?

<a href="/issues/sacto/2005-05-05/letter.pdf">Click here</a> for a larger version of the letter.

Click here for a larger version of the letter.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Al Eaton was all set to toss Dan Lungren’s letter in the trash when he noticed something that amazed him. The Rio Vista resident already had no idea why Sacramento’s Republican congressman would be sending him a “reply” for “contacting” his office, given that Eaton had never written to him in the first place. But apparently, Lungren had something to say to the retired high-school teacher and liberal Democrat.

The letter, dated April 4, 2005, starts off by defending the Republican Congress’ push of House Resolution 6, energy legislation that allows drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). While critics say the oil in ANWR would last only six months, Lungren argues that it could last 25 years by being used to “supplement rather than replace our need for foreign oil.” (Congress passed the bill on April 21.)

But it’s what comes next that caught Eaton’s attention. While discussing the nation’s dependency on foreign oil, Lungren writes, “I feel quite strongly that as long as we have our military in the Middle East fighting so that we can continue to purchase oil from that region, we have an obligation to find alternatives to foreign oil. It is difficult to justify the death of even one soldier when we are not doing everything in our power to explore options for oil within our country.”

“I had to read it two or three more times before I actually believed what I read,” said Eaton. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Am I making a mistake here?’”

Being a consistent donator to political organizations, Eaton discards a lot of political solicitations. But this time, Eaton “read the whole damn thing.”

As it turns out, Lungren’s letter is a mass-mailer response to a petition that Eaton signed from the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Lungren’s staff, Lungren received around 600 letters on the topic of the ANWR, including the petition. A staff aide, Sandra Wiseman, prepared the response that would be sent to all 600 of these concerned citizens. Before Wiseman sent off the letter, Lungren reviewed it while he was on a trip to China and OK’d it.

Last week, when questioned by phone about the letter, Wiseman asked to have the part about soldiers fighting for oil read to her. Afterward, she told SN&R that “[Lungren] does feel this way.”

Asked if Lungren really feels that U.S. forces are over in Iraq fighting for oil, Wiseman denied that the letter actually says that. While admitting that the paragraph could be taken that way, Wiseman said Lungren’s position is that soldiers weren’t sent to the Middle East to secure oil for the United States, but to oust Saddam Hussein. Having done that, they now need to protect the oil supplies.

“As long as this political unrest is [in the Middle East], and [the insurgents] continue to manipulate the oil, there is a problem,” said Wiseman.

But was this really a slip in judgment or a sign that Republican leaders are shifting the rhetoric on Iraq one more time?

Although technically returning to the House of Representatives as a freshman, Lungren is a consummate career politician who already has served 10 years in Congress in addition to an eight-year stint as California’s attorney general. He is also well-versed in the rhetoric of national security, he has campaigned extensively on terrorism issues, and he served as a partner in Venable LLP, the private law firm whose clients include Lockheed Martin and whose lobbying efforts “rocketed” in the aftermath of 9/11.

Venable’s Homeland Security division is now run by Asa Hutchinson, a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who also served as prosecutor in the Clinton impeachment trial. Lungren recently told Congressional Quarterly that his financial connection to the firm “ended at midnight on the last day of last year” and that he “went the opposite direction of the revolving door folks” by taking a pay cut to re-enter politics. Upon his return to Congress, Lungren was named to the House’s Homeland Security Committee.

“Serving on the Homeland Security Committee,” writes Lungren on his congressional Web site, “allows me to follow through on my promise to focus on what I deem the most significant issue of the day: protecting our nation from the dangers of transnational Islamic fascism and those who elect terrorism as their weapon of choice.”

Ironically, polls are beginning to suggest the public may be psychologically prepared for a shift in rhetoric from the war on terrorism to a battle for oil. According to Editor & Publisher last week, the Gallup Poll shows that half of all Americans now say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a 20-percent increase from 2003.

Still, even if there is truth behind Lungren’s apparent rhetorical slip, not everyone is pleased to hear it. After hearing Lungren’s remarks, California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland characterized the letter as a “tragic” example of Republican hypocrisy.

“Lungren was a 220-pound football player that avoided serving in Vietnam by using a knee injury as an excuse not to go,” countered Mulholland. “He consistently avoided the military. Now that he gets to use it, it won’t be him or his kids that go overseas to die.”

As for Eaton, he found the letter more humorous than maddening. Eaton said he assumed that an aide of Lungren had actually written the letter and that Lungren either didn’t read it before signing it or agreed with what it said. “In any case, [Lungren] has to be responsible,” said Eaton.