Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Energy President

There are watershed issues that define every American presidency. Our nation’s first president, George Washington, had the task of holding together a tenuous union of competing factions during the founding of our nation. Not having the benefit of historical mandate for his presidency, Washington helped develop customs of the newly enacted executive powers that were granted him. Our first president offers us a model of presidential bipartisanship, when he skillfully arbitrated between the Jeffersonians, the forerunners of today’s Democrats, at loggerheads with the dominant party of the day, the Federalists.

Lincoln had the task of guiding a nation torn asunder by the Civil War. His reward for successfully meeting the challenge was assassination, a month after the war ended. Historians now recognize that Lincoln’s skillful selection of generals helped ensure a Union victory, when the outcome of the war was in the balance. He also was able to neutralize the radical elements of his day, wedded solely to ideology, rather than the higher ideals of national unification.

FDR, who came to power during arguably, the nation’s darkest economic period, The Great Depression, rode shotgun over sweeping legislation that boldly launched experiments in stimulating the economy, just as he had promised during his inaugural address. While today’s current crop of conservatives will disagree, Roosevelt might be the model of how our new president might act. By his own candid admission, Roosevelt admitted that the initial thrust of his New Deal ("The First 100 Days") was experimental. He would launch an initiative, see if it worked, or whether it didn’t. If the project was a dud, he’d retrench, and move forward, not getting bogged down in over-analysis, or hand-wringing.

LBJ, and Nixon, both had qualities that should have left a better legacy, but they each were plagued by issues that will forever dog them down the dark corridors of time. Johnson’s was the Vietnam War, and Nixon never got over the shame of Watergate.

Our next president has the looming specter of the energy issue. What he is able to do with this, could make, or break his presidency. It could also serve as a hinge pin whether, or not, the U.S. continues to be viewed as a leader in the world. Hindering any action on his part is vast ignorance of the issue, on all sides. The American people, gullible, and like spoiled children, can’t fathom why they can’t motor around any longer, with sub $2/gallon gasoline. The drive-by media, more wedded to equal parts ideology, as well as their corporate benefactors, no longer seek out truth, but are more apt to maintain the status quo, and offer a steady stream of misinformation, further compounding the issue with the general public. Our elected leaders, in the Congress, and Senate, would rather grandstand, and tilt at windmills (rather than develop them as an alternative energy source), further diluting any hope that the incoming president has of moving a proactive agenda on energy, forward.

I leave you with a reasoned Op Ed, in London’s Financial Times, by British Petroleum’s CEO, Tony Hayward (ponder his three myths). It’s ironic that such an evenhanded piece could be penned by an oil “bogeyman.” His conclusion is that the solution is simple. I would differ with him, but I commend him for tackling this issue with a measure of grace, rather than more of the recent histrionic media blathering.

Happy motoring!


Jonathan said...

Reinventing our relationship with energy is no easy task, and one that will require an enormous amount of innovation. I believe explicitly that Barack is wet enough behind the ears to really entertain some innovative approaches to the crisis. I bet we'd have quite a north Atlantic wind farm by now, with all the money we've been hemorrhaging in Iraq.

Jim said...

I'm not sure that innovation is our biggest need on the energy front.

While innovation is welcomed, we have many solutions readily available to diversify our energy mix; some of these solutions simply involve changes in behavior. Take for instance, lowering the speed limit. We would save fuel (as well as some of our own money) by driving 55. I think Carter proposed this, as well as suggesting that the American way of life would have to undergo changes back in 1973. All is got this peanut farmer from Georgia, was booted from office.

Americans love to look to others for solutions; we often are less willing to adopt (and adapt) our own behavior (let the other guy do it).

While many believe Obama will bring about the change that Americans apparently are clamoring for, he may find that being the bellweather of change puts him at odds with the status quo too many have internalized.

Then again, most people are content to be led around by the nose, so if he can truly lead, maybe people will follow.