Most people just don't get it: While soldiers die in the Middle East, we just order up another barrel of crude. John Kerry didn't get it. He offered baby steps. George Bush certainly doesn't get it. Most people just can't make the connection, or don't care to.
Tom Friedman gets it. The foreign-policy columnist for the New York Times ran a column Dec. 6 entitled, "Fly Me to the Moon" in which he argues that the Bush legacy should be making America completely energy independent.
Friedman points to John F. Kennedy's commitment to putting a man on the moon. "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win," JFK said in 1962.
"You give me an America that is energy-independent and I will give you sharply reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran. Yes, deprive these regimes of the huge oil windfalls on which they depend and you will force them to reform by having to tap their people instead of oil wells. These regimes won't change when we tell them they should. They will change only when they tell themselves they must."
The Soviet Union fell apart and reform started in Iran when oil prices collapsed, Friedman notes.
We could be energy-independent within five years if we wanted to be. We could run the nation's fleet on ethanol and biodiesel if we want to. We must inspire that want in people. Kerry couldn't, Bush wouldn't.
We know that the oil supply cannot last forever. Most respected geologists feel it will expire certainly in the next century. They cannot fathom the impact that China and the rest of the developing world will have on consumption. We know that we must do something, so why not now?
Our rant is that you cannot buy E85 [85% ethanol] fuel in Storm Lake, Iowa -- the very heart of the Corn Belt.
It is striking to us that it takes so long for people to wake up to the fact.
Friedman is noteworthy in that his column is a breakthrough. He is the most respected foreign-policy columnist in New York or Washington. It creates an opening -- even if the Los Angeles Times this week called ethanol the biggest "boondoggle" subsidy program imaginable. The LA Times does not understand that we are at war with the oil-producing states, and the only way we can control them is to conquer them. It didn't work for the British, and it won't work for us.
More and more people will figure it out. But it is doubtful whether Bush can, since the Saudis have their own hook so deeply into his hide.
It is a real opening for the next candidate. Take a leap of imagination just for a moment.
Tom Vilsack is downright inspirational when he talks of using science and agriculture to feed the hungry, cure the sick and give light to the darkness. When we heard him deliver that address at Buena Vista University's commencement last spring, we saw the makings of a national politician.
Tom Vilsack is no John Kennedy, as Lloyd Bentsen might say. Certainly, neither was John Kerry. But Vilsack is a man of determination and imagination. It is one thing for Howard Dean to run against the war in Iraq. It is quite another for Tom Vilsack to run for an alternative to eternal Middle Eastern quagmire. Nobody -- repeat, nobody -- is as articulate on this topic as Vilsack. He has studied it, thought about it and given it voice only in safe testing areas.
If Vilsack wants to be president, he should shoot for the moon. He should hoist the flag of complete energy independence in the next 10 years. He should talk about it every chance he gets. He should write about it. He should make certain that the alternative energy environment in Iowa is the model for the nation -- and we have a long way to go on that score, starting with a higher renewable energy requirement for Iowa power companies.
With high oil prices, and the even higher price of blood, this is a theme that will resound with every American -- especially now that Friedman gets the Beltway insiders talking about it. In walks Vilsack to fill that vacuum, and his presidential ambitions become plausible.