Now he says it. After five years encouraging conspicuous consumption of petroleum, President Bush finally called on Americans to conserve gasoline. Better late than never, we suppose, but the advice rings hollow.
Bush, Vice President Cheney and the Halliburton support system they brought with them to office have so thoroughly disparaged even the notion of conservation that the president may have a hard time convincing Americans of the need to use less fuel. His blinkered devotion to exploration and drilling has made him a deeply flawed messenger, with the consequence that what should have been a trumpet call for national restraint sounds more like a cowbell in the West Texas wind.
The instigation for Bush's sudden call for conservation is, of course, the two hurricanes that just battered the Gulf Coast, disrupting refineries and driving up the costs of fuel. Those rising prices may do a lot to induce conservation among American drivers, and by some accounts, they already did.
But, while conservation is certainly called for in the face of an emergency, it ought to occupy a more central part of the nation's post- 9/1 1 life. Indeed, conservation should be an integral component of the nation's energy policy. Our reliance on Middle Eastern oil has helped prop up repressive regimes whose actions feed the beast of al-Qaida. Surely that, alone, is enough for this country to take steps toward weaning itself off this supply of oil.
Bush's lukewarm call for conservation is better than no call at all, but it's not enough. The president needs to take a longer view of the nation's galloping energy consumption and resolve to deal with it not just on the supply side -- as in his push for more exploration -- but on demand, as well. That's called balance. The administration is lacking it.