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NYTimes Friedman: Who's Afraid of a Gas Tax?

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  • Felix Kramer
    http://select.nytimes.com/2006/03/01/opinion/01friedman.html?hp The New York Times March 1, 2006 Op-Ed Columnist Who s Afraid of a Gas Tax? By THOMAS L.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2006
      The New York Times
      March 1, 2006
      Op-Ed Columnist
      Who's Afraid of a Gas Tax?

      My gut told me this was the case, but it's great
      to see it confirmed by the latest New York
      Times/CBS News poll: Americans not only know that
      our oil addiction is really bad for us, but they
      would be willing to accept a gasoline tax if some
      leader would just frame the stakes for the country the right way.

      I am sure one reason President Bush suddenly
      chose to build his State of the Union address
      around ending our oil addiction and moving toward
      a renewable-energy future was because his private
      polling told him the same thing. But Mr. Bush
      simply occupied this ground rhetorically — before
      Democrats could get there — without actually offering a real solution.

      The only real solution is raising our gasoline
      tax, which is a paltry 18.4 cents a gallon and
      has not been increased since 1993. Only if the
      total price of gasoline is brought into the
      $3.50-to-$4-per-gallon range — and kept there —
      will large numbers of Americans demand plug-in
      hybrid cars that run on biofuels like ethanol.
      When large numbers of Americans do that, U.S.
      automakers will move quickly down the innovation curve.

      "Impossible," campaign consultants say. "A
      gasoline tax is political suicide." No, it all depends on how you frame it.

      The poll reported yesterday found that 60 percent
      of those polled, including one-third of
      Republicans, disapproved of how Mr. Bush is
      handling our energy crisis. Only 27 percent
      approved. Most want real action — now. In the
      poll, 87 percent said Washington should require
      car manufacturers to produce more efficient cars.

      Of course, when asked simply whether they'd favor
      a gasoline tax, 85 percent said no and only 12
      percent said yes. But when the gas tax was framed
      as part of a national strategy to achieve energy
      security and climate security, pollsters got a
      very different answer. When the tax was presented
      as reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, 55
      percent favored it and 37 percent said no. And
      when asked about a gas tax that would help reduce
      global warming, even more respondents supported
      it — with 59 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed.

      And that is without a single Democrat or
      Republican leading on this issue! Imagine if someone actually led?

      Many Americans now understand: the Energy
      Question is the big strategic issue of our time,
      overtaking 9/11 and the war on terrorism. If a
      leader from either party would correctly frame
      the issue — that a gas tax is the single most
      important geostrategic move we could make today —
      a solid majority would support it.

      Taking on this issue is the only hope the Bush
      team has for producing a legacy out of its
      remaining years. And it is the Democrats' only
      hope for taking on the Republicans with a big
      idea — rather than relying on G.O.P. scandals to win.

      Sadly, both sides fear the other will smear them
      if they run on this issue. O.K., say you're
      running for Congress and you propose a gas tax,
      but your opponent denounces you as a wimpy,
      tree-hugging girlie-man, a tax-and-spender. What do you say back?

      I'd say: "Oh, really? I guess you think it is
      smart, tough and patriotic for us to be financing
      both sides in the war on terrorism — the U.S.
      military with our tax dollars, and Al Qaeda, Iran
      and various hostile Islamist charities with our energy purchases.

      "Now how patriotic is that? I guess you haven't
      noticed that today's global economic playing
      field has been leveled and that three billion new
      players from India, China and Russia have walked
      onto the field, buying new cars, homes and
      refrigerators. So if we don't break our addiction
      to crude oil, we're going to heat up this planet
      so much faster — enough to melt the North Pole
      and make Katrina look like a summer breeze.

      "Now how smart is that? I guess you don't realize
      that because of this climate change and the
      rising cost of crude, green technologies are
      going to be the industry of the 21st century, and
      a gasoline tax is the surest way to make certain
      that our industries innovate faster and dominate
      innovation in green cars, homes and appliances.

      "Finally, I guess you haven't noticed that the
      wave of democratization that seemed unstoppable
      after the fall of the Berlin Wall has run into a
      black counterwave of petro-authoritarianism. This
      black wave of oil-financed autocrats — Venezuela,
      Russia, Iran, Nigeria, Burma, Saudi Arabia — has
      all the money in the world now to turn back the
      democratic tide. And you think doing nothing to
      reverse that is patriotic? Shame on you, you
      unpatriotic wimp. Green is the new red, white and
      blue, pal. What color are you?"

      That's what I'd say.

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      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
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