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Energy: Jimmy Carter, a president for our time

March 3, 2011 | 10:11 am

Jimmy Carter Where have you gone, Jimmy Carter. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Every time I pull in for gas these days I think of Carter, and what might have been.

Oh, sure. Go ahead and laugh. Worst president ever, right? Thank God for Ronald Reagan, right?

Well, it's not Carter's fault that you're pumping $4-a-gallon gas into a car that gets about the same mpg as the Datsun I owned in 1975.

Ah, Carter was a wimp, you say. Wouldn't stand up to the Iranians. Told us to turn down the thermostat; told us to take the bus; put solar panels on the White House roof. 

Who wanted that? We wanted what Reagan was selling -– we still do, at least if you listen to most Republican leaders. And we got it, with Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton (who was such a beaten-down Democrat, he was practically a Republican) and then George W. Bush.

But imagine if we'd heeded Carter's advice on energy. Imagine where this nation would be, more than three decades later, if we'd accomplished what Carter laid out in his "Crisis of Confidence" speech  on July 15, 1979:

The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them …

I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 -- never. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation…

I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000…

To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun…

 I will urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board which … will have the responsibility and authority to cut through the red tape, the delays, and the endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects. We will protect our environment. But when this nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it…

I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every state, county, and city and every average American in our energy battle. This effort will permit you to build conservation into your homes and your lives at a cost you can afford. To further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism.

Didn't happen. Carter was out after one term. Reagan brought back the good old days. He took down those stupid solar panels on the White House roof.

And while North Korea, which doesn't sit on a pool of oil, developed nuclear weapons, America fought two wars in the Persian Gulf against Iraq, which does sit on a big pool of oil -- but wasn't developing nuclear weapons. 

And in 2005, just four years after Saudi-bred terrorists attacked us on 9/11, George W. Bush strolled hand in hand with Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which also sits on a big pool of oil. Heck, President Obama even bowed, sort of, to the Saudi king in 2009. 

Energy independence is still talked about. Just last month, for example, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman argued for a gasoline tax as a way to encourage conservation and pay down the deficit.

But I didn't hear anyone on Capitol Hill signing on, nor anyone at the White House, and certainly no one who hopes to replace Obama in 2012.

Jimmy Carter is still with us -- a good, decent man who keeps trying to make the world a better place.

And as for our energy policy, all I can say is this: Carter's 30-year-old ideas sound a lot more thoughtful than "Drill, baby, drill!"

RELATED:

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California's renewable energy push: It's time for a state law

Dirtying the Clean Air Act

Gasoline prices: Round up the usual suspects!

Trivia: How much do you know about U.S. presidents?

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: A wax sculpture depicts the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, standing beside a Shell gasoline pump to illustrate the late-1970's oil crisis in the U.S. Presidential Gallery at Madame Tussauds wax museum in Washington. Credit: Michael Reynolds / European Pressphoto Agency

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