A Prius in Every Pot
By MAUREEN DOWD
It's taken over five years, but George W. Bush finally made a concession speech to Al Gore.
He conceded that America needs to conserve, by buying hybrid vehicles and developing new energy sources.
Trying to calm the yips in his party and the country over exploding gasoline prices, the president sounded a bit like a wild-eyed Ozone Man himself yesterday, extolling the virtues of alternative fuel derived from cooking grease, sugar, grass, wood chips, soybean oil and corn.
But then he got ahold of himself. "You just got to recognize there are limits to how much corn can be used for ethanol," he said, standing in front of a bucolic mural. "After all, we got to eat some."
You could run a fleet of S.U.V.'s on the gas that W. was spewing about fuel. Bill Clinton would have been more likely to crack down on fast food than W. and Dick Cheney would be to crack down on Big Oil.
Even the usually supportive Wall Street Journal editorial page chastised Republicans for putting on "Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi fright wigs" to shout about corporate greed and market manipulation.
W.'s big move was to ever so slightly beef up a federal investigation into oil company price manipulation that's been under way since Katrina. "It's a great idea," said the Democratic leader, Senator Harry Reid. "So good that we passed a law last year calling for that."
Price manipulation could explain the marginal — why gas went from, say, $2.70 to $2.90 — but not why gas went from $1.40 to $2.70. That's more about fundamental forces: Chinese and Indian demand, markets spooked by Iran's threats, Nigeria's unrest, Venezuela's talk of nationalizing its oil industry, and the Pentagon's bungling of the restoration of Iraq's infrastructure.
Gasoline prices may be hurting average folks, but the oilers who helped put the Boy King and the Duke of Halliburton in office with lavish donations are enjoying record profits and breathtaking bonuses.
The Oilmen in the Oval, incompetent in so many ways, have brilliantly achieved one of their main objectives: boosting the fortunes of the oil industry and the people who run it.
All those secret meetings the vice president had back in 2001, letting the energy and oil big shots help write our energy policy — one that urged more oil and gas drilling — worked like a charm. In all their years in government, Mr. Cheney and the Bushes have never done anything to hold the oil companies' feet to the fire, or get Americans' feet off the gas pedal.
As Representative James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, noted, "The Republicans are the party with the keys to the executive washrooms of Halliburton, Exxon and the big oil corporations."
Consider Lee Raymond, the recently retired chairman and chief executive of Exxon. Recently, we learned about his stunning secret compensation: he got more than $686 million from 1993 to 2005, according to a Times story, which calculated: "That is $144,573 for each day he spent leading Exxon's 'God pod,' as the executive suite at the company's headquarters in Irving, Tex., is known."
The only oil baron who isn't cashing in these days is Saddam. We pulled up to the pump in Baghdad and plunked down $10 billion a month, and we're still not getting any gas out of it. Instead of easing our oil dependence and paying for Iraq's reconstruction, the bungled invasion and subsequent nuclear sparring with Iran have left even Republicans looking for Priuses.
The last time W. began wringing his hands about our addiction to oil — in the State of the Union address — the vice president was dismissive about the notion of sacrifice afterward. And the energy secretary clarified the president's words, saying they shouldn't be taken literally and that the idea of replacing Middle East oil imports with alternative fuels was "purely an example."
Even if W. shows up on TV in a gray cardigan, it's patently preposterous for the Republicans to make this argument, after selling us on the idea that it's our manifest destiny to get into giant cars and go to giant Wal-Marts and giant Targets and buy more giant bags of stuff. Now they're telling us to squeeze into tiny electric cars and compete for precious drips of oil with the Chinese and Indians who are swimming in enough of our dollars to afford cars.
The U.S. could have begun developing alternative fuels 30 years ago if Dick Cheney hadn't helped scuttle an ambitious plan in the Ford administration.
By the time these guys get gas from cooking grease, global warming will have us cooked.