Bush's Waterlogged Halo, by Thomas Friedman, NY Times:
Following President Bush's speech in New Orleans, many U.S. papers carried the same basic headline: "Bush Rules Out Raising Taxes for Gulf Relief." The president is planning to rely on "spending cuts" instead to pay for rebuilding New Orleans. Yeah, right - and if you believe that, I have some beachfront property in Biloxi I'd like to sell you. The underlying message of all these stories is that the Bush team sees no reason to change course in response to Katrina.
I beg to differ. Katrina deprived the Bush team of the energy source that propelled it forward for the last four years: 9/11 and the halo over the presidency that came with it. The events of 9/11 created a deference … That deference is over. If Mr. Bush wants to make anything of his second term, he'll have to do his own Nixon-to-China turnaround, reframe the debate and recast the priorities of his presidency. He seems to think that by offering to spend billions of dollars to rebuild one city, New Orleans, he'll get his leadership halo back. Wrong. Just throwing more borrowed money at New Orleans is not leadership. Mr. Bush needs to frame a new agenda ... And what should be the centerpiece of a policy of American renewal is blindingly obvious: making a quest for energy independence the moon shot of our generation. The president should have done that on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001. The country was ready. But the president whiffed. Katrina - nature's 9/11 - has given him a rare do-over. Imagine - I know it is a stretch - that the president announced tomorrow that he wanted an immediate 50-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax - the "American Renewal Tax," to be used to rebuild New Orleans, pay down the deficit, fund tax breaks for Americans to convert their cars to hybrid technology or biofuels, fund a Manhattan Project to develop alternatives for energy independence, and subsidize mass transit systems for our major cities. And imagine if he tied this to an appeal to young people to go into science, math and engineering for the great national purpose of making us the greenest nation on the planet, to help liberate us from dependence on the worst regimes in the world for our oil …
Americans will change their long-term energy habits, and companies will develop green products, only if they are certain the price of gasoline will not go back down. A gasoline tax … and stronger regulation would force U.S. companies to innovate in what is going to be one of the most important global industries in the 21st century: green technologies. By coddling our auto and industrial companies when it comes to mileage standards and the environment, all the Bush team is doing is ensuring that they will be dinosaurs and that Chinese, Japanese and Indian companies will take the lead in green technologies … Look what Jeff Immelt, the C.E.O. of G.E., said: "America should strive to make energy and environmental practices a national core competency and by doing so, create exports in jobs. ..." Setting the goal of energy independence, along with a gasoline tax, could help to solve so many of our problems today - from the deficit to climate change and national security. And Americans would pay it if they thought the extra money was going to renew America, not Iran, and not just New Orleans. And if the Texas-oilman president became the energy-independence president - now, that would snap heads and make this a truly relevant presidency. No way, you say. Probably right. But either Mr. Bush does a Nixon-to-China or his next three years are going to be a Bush-to-Nowhere.