Let's (Third) Party
by Thomas L. Friedman
What would OPEC do if it wanted to keep America addicted to oil? That's easy. OPEC would urge the U.S. Congress to deal with the current spike in gasoline prices either by adopting the Republican proposal to give American drivers $100 each, so they could continue driving gas-guzzling cars and buy gasoline at the current $3.50 a gallon, or by adopting the Democrats' proposal for a 60-day lifting of the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon. Either one would be fine with OPEC.
So, to summarize, we now have a Congress proposing to do exactly what our worst enemies would like us to do — subsidize our addiction to gasoline by breaking into our kids' piggybanks to make it easier for us to pay the prices demanded by our oil pushers, so that we will remain addicted and they will remain awash in dollars.
With a Congress like this, who needs Al Qaeda?
Seriously, there is something really disturbing about the utterly shameless, utterly over-the-top Republican pandering and Democratic point-scoring that have been masquerading as governing in response to this energy crisis. The Republicans are worse, because they control all the levers of power and could move the country if they proposed a serious energy policy — but won't.
"We used to say the system is broken because it won't respond until there is a crisis," said David Rothkopf, author of "Running the World," a history of U.S. foreign policy. But now it's really broken, "because the system can't even respond to a crisis!"
What to do? I'm hoping for a third party. The situation is ripe for one: America is facing a challenge as big as the cold war — how we satisfy our long-term energy needs, at reasonable prices, while decreasing our dependence on oil and the bad governments that export it — and neither major party will offer a solution, because it requires sacrifice today for gain tomorrow.
Combine a huge leadership vacuum on a huge issue with an Internet that has proved itself as an alternative platform for organizing, financing and energizing a political campaign outside the Washington establishment, and you have the makings of a credible third party.
I would not call it the "Green Party" — the name's been taken, and it connotes an agenda that is too narrow and liberal. Today's third party has to be big, strategic, centrist and forward-looking — something like the "American Renewal Party," something that frames the energy issue as critical to restoring American strength and wealth, not just conservation. Energy really is key to American renewal — from stimulating more young people to study math and science, to bringing down the trade deficit by decreasing our dependence on imported oil, to bringing down the fiscal deficit by raising gasoline taxes, to improving U.S. competitiveness by making us leaders in clean technologies, to restoring U.S. global respect by leading the fight against climate change, to advancing democracy by finding alternatives to oil and thereby weakening some of the world's worst regimes, who are using their oil windfalls to halt the spread of freedom.
"There is an opportunity here for someone who will seize it," said Micah Sifry, author of "Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America." That someone would have to be a more emotionally stable and energy-focused Ross Perot type. Because, added Mr. Sifry, "if the issue of the day in 1991-1992 was the ballooning budget deficit that we were not dealing with, then the issue today we are not dealing with is the energy and environmental catastrophe that awaits the next generation. It is as much a mortgaging of our children's future as the deficit issue. It needs the right leader, though."
Like someone who will tell the truth: The only way Americans are ever going to enjoy relatively cheap gasoline again is if we raise the price now with a gasoline tax— and fix it at that higher level for several years — so investors know that it is not coming down, and therefore it makes economic sense for them to make the long-term investments in alternative, renewable sources of energy. That is the only way to break our oil addiction and ultimately bring down the price.
Yes, our system is rigged against third parties. Still, my gut says that some politician, someday soon, just to be different, just for the fun of it, will take a flier on telling Americans the truth. The right candidate with the right message on energy might be able to drive a bus right up the middle of the U.S. political scene today — lose the far left and the far right — and still maybe, just maybe, win a three-way election.
Thomas Friedman Third Party Republicans Friedman Democrats