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Tuesday, January 07, 2003
 
Bush is "a very smart man"

I heard David “Axis of Evil” Frum being interviewed by Renee Montaigne on NPR this morning about his new book, The Right Man. In support of his contention that Dubya is, in fact, “a very smart man,” he related a brief converstion relating to the possible use of the phrase “cheap energy” in a presidential speech.

I once made the mistake of suggesting to Bush that he use the phrase “cheap energy” to describe the aims of his energy policy. He gave me a sharp, squinty look, as if he were trying to decide whether I was the very stupidest person he’d heard from all day, or only one of the top five. “Cheap energy,” he answered, “was how we got into this mess. Every year from the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, American cars burned less and less oil per mile traveled. Then, in about 1995, that progress stopped. Why?” He answered his own question. “Because of the gas-guzzling SUV. And what had made the SUV craze possible?” This time I answered. “Um, cheap energy?” He nodded. “Dismissed.”

Apart from the utter unimaginability of the idea that Bush considers the SUV-craze and attendant high levels of oil consumption “a mess,” some other aspects of this brief exchange got me thinking.

If SUVs and “cheap energy” are such big problems, what is Bush doing about them, other than raising tensions and causing unrest in oil-producing nations? I don’t hear him barnstorming the country with the message that we’ve all got to use less gasoline. I don’t hear him hectoring the public about the duty to reduce pollution. I don’t hear him trying to increase gasoline taxes or pushing for research into alternative energy sources.

Of course Bush doesn’t want cheap energy. High oil prices mean fat profit margins for his buddies. High oil prices mean more exploration and drilling, which he clearly wants. High oil prices encourage the construction of more nuclear power plants, which he also wants. High oil prices don’t do much for the economy as a whole, but anyone who’s seen Bush’s tax proposals knows he couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it.