Jan 27, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
State of the Union
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times
Published: January 27, 2006
On Tuesday President Bush will deliver his State of the Union and map out priorities for his last three years. The direction in which America needs to go is obvious: toward energy independence. If Mr. Bush steps up to that challenge, this speech could be a new beginning for his presidency. If he doesn't, you can stick a fork in this administration. It will be done - because it will have abdicated leadership on the biggest issue of our day. Here's the speech I'll be listening for:
My fellow Americans, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy gave an extraordinary State of the Union address in which he called on the nation to marshal all of its resources to put a man on the Moon. By setting that lofty goal, Kennedy was trying to summon all our industrial and scientific talent, and a willingness to sacrifice financially, to catch up with the Soviet Union, which had overtaken America in the field of large rocket engines.
"While we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first," Kennedy said, "we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last."
I come to you this evening with a similar challenge. President Kennedy was worried about the threat that communism posed to our way of life. I am here to tell you that if we don't move away from our dependence on oil and shift to renewable fuels, it will change our way of life for the worse - and soon - much, much more than communism ever could have. Making this transition is the calling of our era.
Why? First, we are in a war with a violent strain of Middle East Islam that is indirectly financed by our consumption of oil. Second, with millions of Indians and Chinese buying cars and homes as they join the great global middle class, we must quickly move away from burning fossil fuels or we're going to create enough global warming to melt the North Pole. Because of that, green cars, homes, offices, appliances, designs and renewable energies will be the biggest growth industry of the 21st century. If we don't dominate that industry, China, India, Japan or Europe surely will.
But to lead, we must impose the highest energy-efficiency standards on our own automakers and other industries so we force them to be the most innovative. I want to inspire girls and boys across America to study math, science or engineering to help our nation achieve green energy independence. President Kennedy said, Let's put a man on the Moon. I say, Let's make oil obsolete.
Finally, my call for spreading democracy will never be achieved if some of the worst regimes on the planet - Iran, Sudan, Venezuela - have so much oil money they can misbehave and ignore the world, and if the rest of us - Europe, America, China and India - are forever coddling them to get access to their crude.
With all of this in mind, I am sending Congress the Bush Energy Freedom Act. It is based on ideas first offered by the energy expert Philip Verleger and it argues the following:
Transportation accounts for most of our oil consumption. And many Americans have purchased big cars and S.U.V.'s, expecting gasoline to remain cheap. That is no longer the case. Therefore, I propose creating a government agency that will buy up any gas-guzzling car or truck in America at the original new or used price, and crush it. This national buy-back program will be financed by a $2-a-gallon gasoline tax that will be phased in by 10 cents a month beginning in 2008 - so people know what is coming and start buying fuel-efficient cars right now.
By removing so many gas guzzlers, we will quickly reduce our oil consumption and create a huge demand for new energy-efficient cars from Detroit, which will rescue our auto industry. We have to do something drastic. The Harley-Davidson motorcycle company is worth more today than General Motors! But by sharply raising the gasoline tax, we'll also make sure that Detroit shifts its fleet to energy-saving plug-in hybrids and hydrogen- and ethanol-burning vehicles, which will force Detroit to out-innovate Toyota. And by generating so much income from a gasoline tax, we will be able to give gas-tax rebates to lower-income folks and have plenty left over to pay for new investment in education and scientific research.
Impossible? Read my lips: Nothing is impossible when Americans put their hearts and minds to it.
One last thing: I have accepted the resignation of Vice President Dick Cheney, who felt he could not be a salesman for the Energy Freedom Act. I am nominating Jeffrey Immelt - the C.E.O. of General Electric, who has focused G.E.'s innovation around "eco-imagination" - as Mr. Cheney's replacement.
Good night, and God bless America.