Carpooling with the Axis of Evil
When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler!"
That's what one wartime propaganda poster famously warned. When the greatest generation heard the call of World War II, the United States had a government that instructed its citizens to make the proper daily sacrifices. Citizens serving on the home front were told to buy war bonds, grow victory gardens and work the factories. With tanks, ships and planes battling in three foreign continents, the conservation of oil at home was branded as patriotic.
The challenges we face today are different than the challenges faced by the G.I. Generation. The threat of a random terrorist attack pales in comparison to the threat of a swastika banner or a Hinomaru being raised over the Capitol, but we face challenges nonetheless. The reality is we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, nations that do not fully share American values to say the least, are the two largest sources of petroleum imports besides our neighbors. Rising world powers in Asia are increasingly eager to use their energy supply for their own growing middle class or as leverage against the United States. Lastly, despite what some think tanks would want the American public to believe, human-caused global warming could still devastate the planet.
Our leadership has not asked us to make the sacrifices needed for the 21st century. When was the last time our generation's leaders told us, "When you ride alone, you ride with bin Laden"?
We have every reason to aggressively pursue alternative energy and to control ourselves at the pump, yet fossil fuels continues to be the meat of every "energy independence" proposal. Politicians' solutions for finding our way out of the pit of energy dependence commonly involve drilling deeper.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation was compelled to take the fight to Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was hiding. Also, in the same moments back in 2001, the White House was already interested in launching a war against Saddam Hussein as well.
Rather than telling the Americans at home to make proportional sacrifices for two wars, our leadership told us to carry on and go shopping. It did not really matter where our goods were coming from, as long as they weren't French. This peculiar wartime civilian psychology of conserving less while buying more is reflected in the White House's tax policy. The richest of the rich, those who could have monetarily sacrificed the most for the country that enabled their success were told they were already paying too many taxes.
Years after 2001, the misrepresentations of our challenges remained. By now, it is clear the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is lasting much longer than what we were led to believe. Recently, President George W. Bush was rightfully criticized for suggesting that the ordinary American was making a sacrifice each time images of war were broadcasted on the evening news. But as wrong as Bush was for saying that, he was just holding a mirror up to the American civilian population. It was not the president's fault entirely; it was also ours. We continue to elect leaders who provide no tough prescriptions for the nation's ills, and it could happen again this year.
It is unfortunate that "Drill, baby, drill!" was a chant of a major party's nominating convention rather than a silly quote used by Stephen Colbert wannabes. Thomas Friedman perfectly summed up the message our nation was broadcasting to the world that week: "Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant … because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it."
Certainly, Sen. John McCain mentioned in more than one occasion about pursuing solar and wind energy technologies; about as much as a certain governor from Texas eight years ago. While we should have expected it from all presidential candidates, we were thrilled to see McCain acknowledge the fact of man-made global warming. Yet McCain's indifference to this came through when he tapped his choice for vice president; someone who tepidly responded, "I don't want to argue about the causes" when questioned about it. While, McCain, like Sen. Barack Obama, is entitled to a running mate who he sometimes disagrees with, his decision ultimately portrayed the priorities he wanted to bolster.
The Arizona senator's reluctance to ask Americans to make the small sacrifices came through earlier during summer when his campaign mocked Obama for recommending that Americans keep their cars' tires fully inflated. Rather than concurring to this small idea to save some energy and moving on, McCain's campaign decided to give out tire pressure gauges labeled "Obama's Energy Plan," implying that it was the Illinois senator's only proposal about energy policy. A modest idea was turned into a cheap stunt.
The fact that global warming was rebranded as "climate change" shows how reluctant our leaders are in rallying the public to recognize the urgency of an impending crisis or challenge. Politicians have too often and too long discussed resolving the perpetual energy crisis ambiguously. The public must seek leadership that has long-term solutions for energy problems in addition to short-term relief. (Off-shore drilling and piercing holes in ANWR are neither.)
A genuinely aggressive push for solar and wind energy innovation is a needed start. Attempts to rethink automobiles with post-combustion technology must not stay in the fringe of the automotive business. Before this current election season draws to a close, I hope more questions are asked about the next president's vision for public transportation.
Energy independence and the environment are barely two small reasons to elect someone who will continually appeal to Americans to take on a cause greater than each individual. Voluntarily driving less and embracing renewable energy are hardly sacrifices when compared to what civilians were asked to do during each great trial in our history. Election Day 2008 will not be the last time to think about the role every citizen must play.
Roger Sheng is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. His column, "The Echo Chamber," runs on alternate Mondays.