From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli and NBC's Mark Murray
BEREA, OH -- For the last few days, Republicans have ridiculed Obama for saying -- in passing -- that if drivers inflated their tires to proper levels, they'd save as much oil as offshore drilling would produce. The Republican National Committee even sent tire gauges to political reporters to continue to mock Obama on the subject.
At a town hall here today, Obama recalled his initial exchange when an audience member asked for something simple people could do to save energy. "So I told them something simple," he said. "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."
He acknowledged that Republicans are now mocking his idea. "This is the kind of thing they do," he said. "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."
Indeed, Time magazine writes that Obama is correct here. "But who's really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right."
Nevertheless, Obama's counterattack spurred a counter-counterattack, in which the RNC urged him to call Congress back into session to vote on an energy bill. "Obama is wrong: Inflated tires are no substitute for oil drilling and a comprehensive energy plan," said RNC spokesman Alex Conant.
Obama later was asked about the war of words between campaigns, and he denounced what he called "nasty" politics. "But not just nasty, also cynical and manipulative, right?" he added. "John McCain says 'Barack would rather lose the war to win an election.' He just said something like that, despite the fact that if we had followed my recommendation not to go into the war in Iraq we would have about an extra trillion dollars to rebuild our economy, we would have been on the path of energy independence, we would have finished the job in Afghanistan and gone after Qaeda."
He said he was "happy to have a battle of words."
"Because I've got facts on my side," he said. "I've got truth on my side. I fear no man when I've got truth on my side."
Early in Obama's remarks, there was a notable disruption, when Obama acknowledged someone standing near the press riser in the back of the Baldwin-Wallace College gymnasium here who was shouting about the Pledge of Allegiance. Learning that the pledge was not recited in the pre-program before he arrived, Obama then asked the heckler to lead the crowd in doing so, immediately putting his hand over his heart.
"We usually do an invocation and the pledge before we start," Obama explained. "I don't know what happened. But I'm glad this young man reminded us."