Bush Could Score Points with Energy Debate

Dick Morris’ new column suggests the current energy problems are an opportunity for President Bush to change the subject from Iraq and to boldly "seize the day."

According to Morris, Bush "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."

Whether or not you agree with Morris’ specific solution to the energy debate, the point to note is that he is calling on the president to declare war on the energy problem. Morris believes this would be a wise political move.

This dovetails a theory I’ve long held: That a president would actually score points by requiring Americans to actually become involved in solving a crisis.

This flies in the face of what common sense would seem to dictate (that Americans would reject the call for them to make sacrifices).

But let’s consider history: When was the last time Americans were asked to become involved in helping the country?

It was probably during World War II, when Americans were called on to conserve materials such as metal and paper to be used by factories to produce ships and weapons. Granted, World War II was a unique time in our history, yet the lesson learned is that calling on Americans to sacrifice (for a good cause) is actually welcome.

Unfortunately, for the last forty years, there has been a liberal viewpoint that government is supposed to always be giving things away. And politicians (on both sides of the aisle) have come to believe they must buy votes. This ultimately has made them wary of asking Americans to sacrifice, and ironically has meant that Americans are less happy — and more isolated — from government.

I know it’s counter-intuitive to think that asking more of people will make them like you more — but the truth is people like to serve. This phenomenon is called the Ben Franklin effect: "When we do a person a favor, we tend to like them more as a result."

Today our men and women in uniform are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice while simultaneously, average civilians are not asked to contribute anything. I believe this is one of the reasons many Americans feel disconnected. How could we identify with sacrifice when it is business as usual on the home front?

With the exception of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, Americans have not recently been asked to sacrifice anything. And these aforementioned sacrifices don’t really count because they were seen as a chance to be charitable to others — rather than a vital act necessary for our collective survival.

Anyone who has ever managed employees or volunteers knows people are generally happier when they are busy and being asked to contribute. We derive a feeling of importance and self-esteem from being needed. There is no greater way to create a disgruntled employee than to pay him to sit at the office without ever fulfilling a goal. Sure, the first week is good. But in the long run, this breeds contempt.

Morris’ is really arguing that we can enlist Americans in a new war…a war for energy independence. This will serve to inspire and enlist Americans, without spilling a drop of blood. And, as he puts it, it could take the focus off of Iraq if is used to "distract Americans with a stellar performance in a new crisis."

Of course, as is always the case, style is as important as substance. For Bush to sell this idea, he would have to go on national TV and really "sell" it. The question Morris fails to address is that, even if Bush were persuaded to take his advice, could the president actually execute the strategy?