Americans are an optimistic nation. They like to think that things are getting better; that they have things better off than did their parents, and that their children will do better than they. Yes, there is the occasional bump in the road, but generally speaking, a key part of the American creed is "Every day, in every way, I'm doing better and better!"
Historically, American voters also like to see this reflected in their politics. Most of the time, the electorate plumps for the presidential candidate who appears to be more lighthearted and optimistic about the future. Not that you ought to ignore the problems we face if you want to be president, oh no; but you at least are expected to put forward a likely-sounding solution and express the confidence that we'll take care of business as we always do.
Nixon's poor debate performance over John F. Kennedy, in which he appeared to television viewers as glowering and depressed vs. the sunny youth of JFK, is a famous example of this trend in action. Another is the landslide victory of Reagan's "Morning in America" over Carter's malaise and stagflation. Americans don't want to be told that it can't be done. They want to hear how it can, and surely will be.
Which makes Barack Obama's recent statements particularly jarring. For the entirety of his presidential campaign if not his political career, Obama has been famous for sunny, frothy statements of optimistic nothingness. "We are the ones we've been waiting for!" is more likely the title of a pop-music hit than a political platform, but its message (such as it is) of hope and optimism has struck an overwhelming chord: witness the near-hero-worship and nausea-inducing hyperbole generated in the hearts of his adherents.
In fact, the mantra of "Yes, We Can!" chanted by his supporters is so much a part of the Obama movement that it's entered the blogosphere as a derisory term for people who mindlessly support Barack without having any idea of what his actual policies are: Yeswiccans.
And then he comes out and says the following:
"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK."
We what? Obama presumes to tell us what temperature we may heat our homes to and what car we may drive because the choices we make might piss off other countries?
Yes, efficiency is a Good Thing: and indeed we see Americans choosing to buy smaller cars and lowering their thermostats as fuel prices go through the roof. But since when is it the business of government or any politician what Americans choose to do with their own money?
And when Americans find that they can no longer make the choices to which they have become accustomed, they most certainly do not appreciate hearing someone that earns seven figures telling them to just suck it up and get used to it.
There is a right approach to the problems we have with energy prices: Get more.
Can we lower fuel prices by availing ourselves of the bountiful oil supplies right here at home, in Alaska as well as offshore, that have not been touched thanks to radical environmentalists? Yes, we can!
Can we provide fuel for industry, heating, and electricity by more fully utilizing our vast coal reserves, sufficient for 600 years of current consumption, and taking advantage of modern "clean-burning" technologies to make sure there's no risk of creating the pea-soup smoggy fogs of Victorian London? Yes, we can!
Can we, over the next two decades, vastly reduce our dependence on oil by purchasing hybrid vehicles (as consumers are already beginning to do), adapting them to plug into the electrical grid and charge for short trips (as can be done today with aftermarket kits, and will be included from the factory before long), and providing abundant electricity from modern nuclear power (as France has done for decades without casualties?) Yes, we can!
In short, can we continue to improve our lifestyles as Americans, while using existing technology to do so in a reasonably clean way, and without allowing ourselves to be hamstrung by foreign lands with their own agendas? Yes, we can!
But that's not the route Obama wants to take. And on the other side of the pond, we can already see proposals to do exactly what his speech implied. The British Daily Mail reports:
Every adult should be forced to use a 'carbon ration card' when they pay for petrol, airline tickets or household energy, MPs say. The influential Environmental Audit Committee says a personal carbon trading scheme is the best and fairest way of cutting Britain's CO2 emissions without penalising the poor. Under the scheme, everyone would be given an annual carbon allowance to use when buying oil, gas, electricity and flights. Anyone who exceeds their entitlement would have to buy top-up credits from individuals who haven't used up their allowance. The amount paid would be driven by market forces and the deal done through a specialist company.
The article goes on to say that Britain is already committed to reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2010, and is about to sign up for a 60% cut by 2050. The simple bureaucratic mind figures, just take the appropriate total for the year, divide by the population, and shazzam! There's your carbon ration.
Everything you buy has a carbon cost, and when you run out of your ration... well, no matter how much money you have, no more shopping for you, unless you can buy someone else's unused allowance. Of course, certain luminaries are doing the people's business, and whatever emissions they may produce are nothing compared to the greater good, so no doubt Al Gore would retain the use of his private jet. But us normal folks, well, better count your ration coupons, we're Saving the World.
Rationing has its place - yes, even in the United States, there were ration cards issued for essential goods during World War 2. But at that time, there was a definite enemy who could be defeated, and as soon as it was, the rationing ended.
Never in a free society has there been a scheme for government to artificially control how much may be produced or consumed as an ongoing way of life. In fact, not that long ago, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita was a prime source of pride for a nation: the larger it was, the richer and better-off its citizens clearly were.
There's a simple phrase that expresses the plans of Barack Obama and the Environment Audit Committee in Britain: "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." But that's been tried before, and it didn't end well.
Can we take away all the freedoms and liberties of American citizens and sacrifice them on a phony altar to the false god of environmentalism? Let's hope the Yeswiccans are not so fast with their response now that Obama has made his real goals crystal clear.