If the first stage in kicking an addiction is admitting you have one, this year's State of the Union address had good news, five years of denial in the making. President Bush, so closely linked in his career and ideology to the oil industry, acknowledged that "America is addicted to oil."
Then he fell far short of actually dealing with that addiction. Instead of real initiatives, he proposed increases in existing energy plan measures. In the most glaring deficiency of all, he ignored the fastest and most obvious route to reducing oil imports and oil dependence: conservation.
Bush's answer to the addiction was to throw technology at it. But America stands a far better chance of reducing its dependence now by promoting less oil consumption while technology develops. The biggest step toward that would be one that this White House and Congress steadfastly refuse to take -- higher vehicle fuel economy standards -- something Bush could order the Environmental Protection Agency to do today. Gas prices and consumer demand may force Detroit in that direction, but this administration won't. This only fuels charges Bush and the Republican Congress do Big Oil's bidding.
Long term, the president is right. Technologies hold promise for changing a fossil-fuel economy to an alternative-energy one. All would see quick, good increases in federal research spending from the levels envisioned in last year's energy bill.
The president avoided claims that America can drill its way out of its oil-import problem. Yet the alternative energy accelerated-spending proposals still do not match the $2 billion in tax breaks the oil and gas industry got in that energy bill.
This nation's strategy should be more aggressive and three-fold: First reduce oil consumption through immediate promotion of conservation and especially tougher vehicular fuel efficiency standards, which some studies show could be managed to actually boost the auto industry rather than hurt it. Then the government should push the research Bush wants into practical applications for alternative fuel technologies to build that momentum. And, finally, the world needs a long-term shift from an oil to a better alternative economy, perhaps hydrogen.
This week, though, the president merely sang an old song. He put off his short-term goal of better ethanol technology until 2012, and his long-term goal of a 75 percent reduction in Middle East oil imports until 2025, both far beyond his presidency. He sees the problem, but he's not the leader to solve it.