Bush and Davis turn out the lights

Tuesday’s verbal jousts between California Governor Gray Davis and President George W. Bush illuminated (sorry, California) not the ongoing lack of coordinated response concerning the “power crisis” nor the gap between federal concerns and local response, but the ambitions of two powerful men positioning themselves for the 2004 presidential election.

The “amicable” discussion, which is the official word from the spin cycle at the White House, was anything but. Both potential candidates showed a stunning lack of desire to negotiate on some middle ground, essentially stating the stereotypical position of the political left (sweeping federal intervention) and the political right (market mayhem).

In the meantime, California consumers are feeling the heat, literally and figuratively. While both Davis and Bush are seeing their margin of favorability fall to frightening lows, Davis has far more to lose. Bush never was a political fit for California, and with statements like “I am against anything that makes the power crisis worse … and that is why I am against price caps” without any other clarification, strategy or explanation, he has further sealed his political (mis)fortune with the majority of Californians.

Again, though, Davis will be propelled into the 2004 presidential election from the political launch-pad of state politics. His ability to craft a solution to the state’s electric woes, while simultaneously branding Bush as President Abandon, are central to his own political fortunes. That is exactly why Bush, with his very uncompassionate conservative conception of consumer rights, is treating Davis as part and parcel of the power problem.

To make matters worse (or better, depending on your perspective) the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Texas power conglomerates were charging California three times the price per power unit than they were charging other states. Bush, in tepid response, declared they would not tolerate price gouging, even though they did until it was revealed in the press.

While George W. Bush is lauding the corrective power of the market, his good ol’ boy power network is gouging consumers, and he is blaming the ineptness of Governor Gray Davis. All the while, Davis is demanding federal intervention and realizing that a big, liberal state like California is unlikely to get it, especially when consumer relief deposits him as a front-runner for the Presidency.

The California power predicament has all the elements needed to predict the tone and strategies of the 2004 presidential election. The commercials, the debates and the accusations are now being formulated by the political machinations of both parties. In the meantime, while the political lights are coming on brilliantly and the potential candidates are already pushing to step into its luminosity, the populace is sitting in the dark.