America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.
I don’t know if this is Nixon-goes-to-China territory, but it’s every bit as significant as Clinton acknowledging that "the era of big government is over." This kind of cat cannot be put back in the bag.
Humorously, Bush tried to put it back in the bag with his very next line:
The best way to break this addiction is through technology.
Those who know how to parse Bushese will understand this sentiment immediately. Translation: "The best way to respond to this problem is to hand out some public money to corporate interests." This is, here as so many other places, terrible public policy. Matt Yglesias concisely captures why:
There are a lot of things that it looks right now could maybe provide ways for people to transport themselves without using so much oil. Having congress try and decide what the technology of the future is and subsidize the heck out of it, however, doesn’t really play to congress’ comparative advantage. The better play would simply be to raise taxes on oil, put the money thereby earned back in people’s pockets one way or another, and then let the market sort things out. Maybe we’ll all drive ethanol blends derived from switchgrass. Maybe we’ll all drive gas-electric hybrids. Maybe we’ll drive less. Maybe our gas-electric hybrids will use ethanol and the ethanol will come from wood chips. Who knows? A higher gas tax would be a de facto subsidy to whatever oil-saving contrivances can be made viable rather than having congress try and guess what will and won’t work out.
If "addiction to oil" is the problem, then using less oil should be our goal — not "using ethanol" or "using more nuclear power." The feds shouldn’t be choosing winners, just setting the parameters of an acceptable outcome.
But ultimately I think Bush’s inadequate policy response is beside the point. Who would expect anything else?
The real point is that we’ve crossed the Rubicon: It is now officially and forever Beltway conventional wisdom that we need to consume less oil. Sooner or later public officials will come along with better proposals on how to get there. But at least now we’re all pulling in the same direction.
Get Grist in your inbox