Why the President is AWOL from the War Against Oil

A lot of people, myself included, are quite upset that the President, even at this late date, seems absent without leave from the war against oil

After last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, this year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, and with three wars being fought over access to oil, one would think the President would be doubling-down on wind, on solar energy, on biomass, and (especially) on efficiency research.

No such luck.

There are two important points to be made here. One is about the President. The second is about you.

This President, like every crisis leader before him, is following what I call the Nixon Road.  That is, he is leaning against our former, obsolete solutions as though they still had meaning, giving those assumptions some of their biggest victories, while feeding his own supporters only rhetoric.

Old political assumptions, in other words, retain their power over people long after they are useful as policy. It was Nixon who signed the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, who created the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nixon was, in retrospect, the last great gasp of FDR-era liberalism, just as this Administration is giving the Far Right some of its biggest victories while they howl ever more-loudly for his political head on a platter.

What turns a crisis leader toward a new set of assumptions are his rhetoric and the pressure of his supporters. Nixon gave his followers “nattering nabobs of negativism,” even while giving them liberal policies. Obama is doing much the same, offering liberal rhetoric with conservative policies, and in the process is pleasing no one.

As FDR himself reportedly said, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” This President will not decisively turn toward a War Against Oil unless and until people demand it.

He is sailing on history, just as every crisis leader has sailed before him. He can make some progress going against the wind, tacking back-and-forth. He can make more progress with the wind, but we have to be that wind.

Which is the second point.

There is a grand coalition to be built among environmentalists, among renewable energy executives, among people who just want energy security, among those who want an end to foreign wars over resources. Yet we don’t hear it over the din of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Partly it’s because the media isn’t listening for it. But it’s also because we’re not shouting loud enough, we’re not making it a demand, a priority.

Global warming is a cause. National energy security is a cause. Jobs are a cause. And in the renewable energy space we know all these causes have a single, common solution – government support for energy harvesting and for greater efficiency.

If Americans become as frugal with their energy use as Europeans, we can cut demand in half and break the back of the oil power. Given investment and just five years we can serve a substantial part of that demand through devices. We know that, but we need to say so, loudly and often, and get in the faces of those who still cry for caveman energy, whether they are on Wall Street, in Washington, or tweeting from Alaska. We need to prove the cynics wrong.

We need to organize, both business and consumers, into a political movement that will make the President act on his party’s political impulse, and set us on a new course.

We need to make him do it. Complaining that he’s not moving faster in the teeth of a gale does us no good at all. Thinking that we can replace him with a politician more amenable to our interests, when the other party is so loudly dedicated to drilling, killing, and burning as an energy policy, is foolishness.

Back in the early 1970s movement conservatives didn’t like Richard Nixon one bit, but most know now that he began the political turn Ronald Reagan validated, and that the turn was what counted in retrospect.

We need to do the same.

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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