by Michael Shellenberger and Adam Werbach – TomPaine.com
With its presidential candidates divided over war with Iraq, the Democratic Party once again looks confused and weak on national security. In a climate of fear around terrorism, attacking the president on domestic issues like health care and the economy simply won’t be enough to take back the White House in 2004.
One issue above all others has the potential to excite both conservative and liberal wings of the party on national security, and that’s freeing America from its dependence on Middle East oil. Voters understand that our reliance on this oil increases America’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks, wars and economic turbulence. They know that oil isn’t behind all of the problems in the Middle East but that it exacerbates enough of them to demand a response. And across the board, voters fear our president doesn’t take the issue seriously.
Democrats today have an opportunity to inspire the country with a hopeful vision, akin to a new Apollo Project, one that weans America off Middle East oil in favor of solar and wind energy in 10 years while creating millions of new jobs.
Like JFK’s Apollo Project, which put a man on the moon in under a decade, Apollo II would be big, bold and fast. If terrorism, war and economic uncertainty symbolize our oil economy, it makes sense that Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, should represent the new energy economy.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove knows well that the Bush family’s close political and business ties to Saudi oil billionaires is the soft underbelly of the administration’s foreign policy. It’s not hard to imagine Rove awake at night fearing the attack ads to come: slow-motion video of Bush yucking it up with Saudi princes while a James Earl Jones-type narrator warns of “the Axis of Oil.”
Rove is already trying to pre-empt the coming Democratic assault on Bush’s Saudi energy policy. During his State of the Union address the president announced that he will request $1.2 billion for 10 years of research and development of fuel-cell cars. It may have sounded like a lot of money, but it’s not. The paltry sum will do literally nothing to get better cars on the road, much less reduce our dependence on Middle East oil.
Jump-starting the transition away from oil and toward clean energy won’t be cheap — and that’s a good thing for Democrats because oil independence will require economic stimulus at home.
Experts estimate the cost of creating a national hydrogen infrastructure to power fuel cell cars at roughly $150 billion. Bringing down the cost of clean energy technologies, like solar, wind and biomass, to generate the necessary hydrogen fuel will likely cost another $150 billion.
That’s a big investment, to be sure. It’s also less than half of the president’s proposed tax cuts for the rich.
Democratic presidential candidates Dick Gephardt and John Kerry have paid lip service to energy security but they haven’t yet put their money where their mouths are. If the Democrats hope to distinguish their program from the president’s, they must campaign for serious economic stimulus to hasten our independence from Middle East oil.
The risk is that the Democrats will try to have it both ways. They’ll propose tax cuts for the middle class and modest investments in clean energy. This would be a mistake. The public trusts Republicans, not Democrats, to deliver tax cuts, and it trusts Democrats, not Republicans, to create jobs.
The economic case for Apollo II is obvious. America lost more than 10 percent of its manufacturing jobs during the last four years. (Many of those lost jobs were in Ohio and Michigan — two swing states.) During that same period, the United States lost clean-energy market share to foreign companies. Japan increased its market share of solar manufacturing from 25 to 50 percent in just five years. Europe today controls 90 percent of the world’s wind-turbine production. America is getting beat for the simple fact that the Japanese and European governments have guaranteed and subsidized the market for clean energy and ours hasn’t.
Apollo II will play to the traditional strengths of the Democrats. Twenty high-skilled manufacturing, engineering, installation and service jobs are created for every megawatt of solar panels produced. And Apollo II will appeal equally to party hawks and doves, environmentalists and blue-collar workers. If swing voters in battleground states like Michigan and Ohio are asked to choose, they’ll opt for new jobs and energy security over tax cuts for the rich every time.
American presidents have traditionally used wars to justify large, strategic investments in infrastructure and emerging industries, from the interstate highway system to the Internet. Only by calling for a similarly large project on energy security will Democrats be able to position themselves as stronger than the president on homeland security while outflanking him on foreign policy.
Michael Shellenberger is executive director of Americans for Energy Freedom. Adam Werbach is a former president of the Sierra Club and executive director of Common Assets Defense Fund, http://www.assetdefense.org.