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I've been thinking about the crude oil/gasoline price issue quite a bit. Crude is advancing on $140 bbl and gasoline will top $4 per gallon and advance towards $5 this summer. Naturally, this will be devastating to America's already struggling economy.
It didn't have to be this way.
When the initial "energy crisis" set in during the 1970's, bold initiatives were started that proved helpful. However, starting out with sound, reasonable leadership on energy by Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter only led to indifference and "market solutions" from Reagan on up to the present.
Look at Jimmy Carter's words from April 1977, words of a leader seeking to rationally attack a serious national problem....
If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.
Spoken 31 years ago, the Democratic president couldn't have been more correct. His political views were not "faith based". He was a realist tackling a recognizable and serious problem. The crisis Carter warned about is now upon us.
It didn't have to be that way.
Carter set out a ten point plan to deal with this crisis. Here are two of those points....
The sixth principle, and the cornerstone of our policy, is to reduce the demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy. Link
The tenth principle is that we must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century.
Conservation, (using less energy) and developing "new unconventional sources of energy" that Carter believed Americans would "rely" on in the 21st century.
The 21st century is now.
During the 70's CAFE standards were enacted....
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations in the United States, first enacted by Congress in 1975, are federal regulations intended to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) sold in the US in the wake of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. Light trucks that exceed 8,500 lb GVWR do not have to comply with CAFE standards; SUVs and passenger vans are exempt up to 10,000 lb. In 1999, over half a million vehicles exceeded the GVWR and the CAFE standard did not apply to them. In 2011, the standard will change to include many larger vehicles.  The United States has the lowest average fuel economy among first world nations; the European Union and Japan have fuel economy standards about twice as high as the United States. Link
More importantly, the changes implemented by the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations worked......
Americans are now using less fuel. Each American this year will use up an estimated 350 million B.T.U.s of energy (the equivalent of 60.3 bbl. of oil), as compared with 358 million in 1979. In addition, the U.S. so far this year has been importing 19.4% less foreign oil than in 1979.
Reagan's approach....from the same Time, December 1980 edition....
The President-elect has a long commitment to the concepts that the U.S. will have to produce, rather than conserve, its way to energy sufficiency and that the free market, rather than the Federal Government, should play the main role in developing future energy sources. "I would get the Government out of the energy industry and turn oilmen loose in the marketplace," Reagan told campaign rallies. Link
Had Reagan taken advantage of this .....to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by imposing an oil import fee, or to encourage conservation through a tax, he would have left his successor less a prisoner of events in the Middle East. But Reagan abhorred taxes, and he did not accept the necessity of conservation. His trust was in the marketplace. Link
The reason I bring all this up.....is because it's deja-vu all over again.
The exact same political sides have been drawn in 2008 that were drawn in 1980 over energy. Democrats in 2008 want higher CAFE standards, conservation, more government resources devoted to bring alternative energy sources into actuality. Republicans want to allow the unfettered free market to lead the way. More drilling, more invisible hand of the the market.
If Reagan and those following him would have simply continued following the reality-based leadership started by two Republican and one Democratic administrations......we would have already been a long way down the road of energy independence.
It didn't happen.
Today's Republican leadership, like Reagan, is dismissive of conservation and government intervention to fix the energy problem. Dick Cheney said that conservation was "quaint", something that was a personal "virtue", but had no place in government policies. Renewed zeal to drill, drill, drill is still the GOP's answer, as it was Reagan's in 1980. Relying not on the proven policies of the 70's, instead, relying on "turning loose oilmen" in the marketplace.
Ronald Reagan insisted that government was America's problem. He spouted that if government would just get out of the way, the free and divine market could solve all of America's problems. Instead of using the power of the federal government to tackle the oil and energy issue, Reagan, and the presidents after him, left most of the problem for the marketplace.
Now we have $4 a gallon gasoline.
The radical nature of today's Republican party includes the doctrine of Reagan that government is never the solution to anything. In president George W. Bush we have experienced the results of this extremist doctrine gone to seed. Katrina and oil prices are two quick examples of how successful the Reagan doctrine has worked out channeled through the Decider.
Most GOP candidates this election cycle are Reagan disciples, STILL believing that the answer to any problem, even one threatening the future of our country, is for government to stay out of it and let the invisible hand of the market determine our fate. That's what Reagan decided in 1980 when he deregulated everything that wasn't locked down and turned the free market oilmen loose.
It didn't have to be this way.