January 30, 2007


What the President Got Right: Give Bush credit for his energy proposal. (Gregg Easterbrook, Jan. 29, 2007, Slate)

Last week Bush proposed something environmentalists, energy analysts, greenhouse-effect researchers, and national-security experts have spent 20 years pleading for: a major strengthening of federal mileage standards for cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. The number-one failing of U.S. energy policy is that vehicle mile-per-gallon standards have not been made stricter in two decades. Nothing the United States can do in energy policy is more important than an mpg increase. Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, and, until last week, George W. Bush had all refused to face the issue of America's low-mpg vehicles, which are the root of U.S. dependency on Persian Gulf oil and a prime factor in rising U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. But now Bush favors a radical strengthening of federal mileage rules, and last week to boot became the first Republican president since Gerald Ford to embrace the basic concept of federal mileage regulation (called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard).

This should have been Page One headline material--PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DRAMATIC MPG REGULATIONS. Instead, most news organizations pretended Bush's mpg proposal did not exist, or buried the story inside the paper, or made only cryptic references to it. In his 2006 State of the Union address, when Bush said America was "addicted to oil" but proposed no mpg improvements, critics rightly pummeled the president. Now Bush has backed the needed reform, and the development is being downplayed or even ridiculed.

What's going on? First, mainstream news organizations and pundits are bought and sold on a narrative of Bush as an environmental villain and simply refuse to acknowledge any evidence that contradicts the thesis. During his term the president has significantly strengthened the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution caused by diesel fuel and diesel engines, to reduce emissions from Midwestern power plants, to reduce pollution from construction equipment and railroad locomotives, and to reduce emissions of methane, which is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. You'd never know these reforms even happened from the front page of the New York Times, which for reasons of ideology either significantly downplays or fails to report them. Second, with the war in Iraq appearing a fiasco of the first magnitude, editors and pundits feel Bush must be ridiculed on all scores--even when he offers intelligent, progressive proposals.

As with Margaret Thatcher, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair, it is extremely difficult for a Third Way politician like George W. Bush to get credit even when he shares his opponents ends.

MORE (via Kevin Whited):
"The Bush Administration is Caught Half-Way Across a Bridge": President George W. Bush's former speechwriter David Frum coined the phrase "Axis of Evil." In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE he accuses the White House of serious mistakes in Iraq and in the war on terror. (Der Spiegel, 1/23/07)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Bush "the last neocon in power," as Bill Kristol recently wrote?

Frum: The story of the Bush Administration is a story of absorbing certain doctrines that are called "neo-conservative," but entrusting them to be executed by people who did not believe in those doctrines. And by always limiting the applications of those doctrines, so as not to touch on the really deep American commitments to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. If Bush were a neo-conservative, as everybody said, then his response to 9/11 would have been that this originated in an extremism that the government of Saudi Arabia has whipped up in order to protect itself from the consequences of its own corruption.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has the Iraq chaos discredited the essentially correct vision of democracy for the Middle East?

Frum: No, the idea will go into hibernation, but it will be back more powerful than ever. The diagnosis that the problems of the Middle East are traceable to the failures of the way they govern themselves strikes me still as very deeply true.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't there proof now that you shouldn't try to change the political landscape by force?

Frum: Force is always the last resort. But if you use it there has to be real democratization afterwards.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your colleague, Joshua Muravchik from the American Enterprise Institute argues that the neocons should now make the case for bombing Iran.

Frum: It's not a good idea to begin talking about things that would shatter the unity of the Western approach to Iran. It's not necessarily true that bombing is the only answer. We are learning more and more every day about the economic vulnerability of the Iranian regime.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will history say about this president?

Frum: On his tombstone could be written: "He tried a lot." He dreamed big. But it's a dangerous question because presidents are like stocks, their reputations rise and fall. He will get marks for being willing to take on the problem of Islamic extremism more broadly. He will suffer for having underestimated Iraq. That will be held against him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 30, 2007 8:13 AM

Frum has been anti-Bush since he left office. And let's let Bush finish his term before giving him a poor grade.

Posted by: AWW at January 30, 2007 9:40 AM

All I can say about Gregg Easterbrook's insistence that MPC/CAFE standards are a "number one failing is this: He and others better hope folks like me, armed with cameras, don't spot them at their favorite cafe going into an SUV they're owning or driving.

Or does Easterbrook do his usual dance on how the hypocrisy trope only goes one way?

Posted by: Brad S at January 30, 2007 10:08 AM

Frum was anti-Bush before he went to the White House. He's a neocon. They hate Evangelicals.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2007 2:45 PM


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