BUSH IN CARTER-LAND

The president is now asking Americans to conserve gas? I wonder what’s next. Will he ask his own government to balance its budget? Not so long ago, the vice-president derided conservation as a matter of “personal vanity.” Now it’s a national duty? Once again, you see how incoherent this presidency has become. If a government wants to conserve a particular product, it does not need to make rhetorical pleas for people not to use it. It can adjust its own policies to make us more fuel-efficient and less dependent on foreign oil, especially from the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration has, alas, never made this a priority. I think they’re right to drill in ANWR and encourage new energy development in the U.S. and they’ve been better on fuel standards than their critics will concede. But the obvious complement to this – conservation and sane energy taxes – remains unthinkable to them. Simply put: We need to increase the cost of gas to force the auto industry to move to newer, better fuels and consumers to make wiser choices. A phased in gas tax of a dollar on the gallon is a tax that most sane economists support, helps wean us off foreign oil, helps the environment, and defunds the terror-masters. Bush should have proposed it as an anti-terror message after 9/11. Pathetic pleas now to stop driving on Sundays and the like are no substitute for something that actually might solve the basic problem. Look: I’m a low tax kind of guy. I support Bush’s tax cuts on most areas (I exclude the estate tax, because it rewards inheritance rather than work). But this is an area that, in every substantive regard, is a win-win. Except that politically, it’s lose-lose. The test of leadership is whether a person can persuade people that an unpopular measure is still better for everyone in the long run. Has Bush ever done such a thing? Or even tried to?

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