Cliff May

If you were advising a friend who was unfit and lacking energy, would you tell him to diet or exercise? You’d probably suggest he do both.

Right now, America is literally short on energy and, largely as a result, in poor shape economically. Indeed, the free nations of the West are sitting around like couch potatoes, watching with bovine passivity as an unprecedented amount of wealth – and the power that invariably goes with it – moves from the pockets of free peoples to the coffers of Saudi sheiks, Iranian mullahs, Russian apparatchiks and tin-pot dictators – none of whom have our interests at heart.

So should Americans utilize the domestic oil and natural gas resources that, in recent years, politicians have placed off limits? Or should we use our technological skills to develop new, alternative sources of energy? Most Americans – wiser than politicians or perhaps just less beholden to special interests – say the answer is, obviously, both.

A poll conducted last month by Voter Consumer Research Inc. for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD, the think tank I head) found that the price of gasoline is the issue that troubles more voters than any other: Forty-three percent put it at the top of their list, followed by jobs and the economy at 37 percent, and the war in Iraq at 31 percent.

But pressed to reflect on their answers, voters said that even more distressing than the price they’re paying at the pump is America’s addiction to foreign oil. Depending on how the question was asked, between 57 and 64 percent say they believe that energy independence should be America’s primary goal – because our economic and national security depends on it.

They don’t believe we can conserve our way out of this crisis: Eighty-two percent say that conservation alone won’t cure what ails us.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Drill here, Drill Now, Pay Less” campaign has had an impact: Most people – 60 percent – favor more domestic exploration and production of oil, including off the coasts and even in wilderness areas.

But a whopping 91 percent say the best way to reduce America’s oil dependence is to give consumers more fuel choices; 83 percent say man can’t live by oil alone -- alternative fuels need to be brought to market.

Specifically, 76 percent want the U.S. government to promote the development of plug-in hybrids – cars that can run on both liquid fuels and electricity, and which can be re-charged by plugging into a standard electric socket.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.