As anyone remotely into New Age voodoo knows, the Chinese symbol for crisis is said to consist of the words “danger” and “opportunity.”
Not conversant with Chinese, we must accept this derived wisdom on faith. But if that is indeed the symbol, it applies perfectly to the situation the Bush administration faces in the rapid escalation of gas prices.
A less elegant way of putting it is that the best cure for a headache may be a broken foot. In the pain in one’s lower extremity, one forgets the discomfort up above.
Bush is never going to solve the massive negatives he is suffering as a result of the war in Iraq. His best shot is to distract Americans with a stellar performance in a new crisis, and the rise in gas prices comes along at just the right time.
The key is to seize the day. The president’s pathetically weak warning that we are facing a long, hot summer and that gas prices might rise even more sounds helpless and removed. Instead of lamenting high prices, he should pounce on the opportunity to lead America away from an oil-dependent economy.
Using the sense of danger and vulnerability Americans feel as prices drive their family budgets out of whack, he can energize and lead the nation in the way that he did so successfully after Sept. 11.
He should address the nation on television and call on Congress to act quickly on massive new investments to increase the production of alcohol-based fuels and cars that can accommodate them. He should plunge ahead in the development of hydrogen-fueled cars and the conversion of gas stations to provide hydrogen. He should call for major new facilities to produce hydrogen and the rapid production of vehicles that can run on it.
Where private-sector investment is needed — as in the production of the cars — he should incentivize it through tax policy and require it through regulation. Where public investment is involved, he should build up our infrastructure rapidly with a massive outlay of funds.
We live in one of those times when a major public investment is needed. It is time for the same sort of commitment to infrastructure change as animated the canals and railroads of the 19th century and the superhighways and fiber-optic networks of the 20th.
The current slow pace of expansion of alcohol-based fuels will take decades before we are fully converted away from oil. But the science is there and the technology is being refined to make the production of alcohol fuels ever more efficient. And hydrogen is not far behind.