So, is $4-a-gallon gas the equivalent of Pearl Harbor, or is it more like the first Soviet manned rocket into space? I've heard both comparisons in recent days.
Rep. Rob Bishop visited the editorial board the other day. He didn't literally compare gas prices to Pearl Harbor, but he wanted to emphasize that $4 a gallon is making everyone in Washington see things differently. Ideas that had been considered politically off-limits, such as offshore drilling or extracting oil from shale in Utah and Colorado, suddenly are part of the discussion again, he said.
"Six months ago, this was not the issue people were talking about," he said, to illustrate how recent price spikes have put even the war in Iraq on the back burner of presidential politics.
I pressed him on whether he could find any sort of consensus to pass a 12-step energy bill he is sponsoring one he said had to pass in its entirety and that includes things such as drilling in Alaska's ANWR region.
I had a hard time remembering any "all or nothing" proposals in Congress that had succeeded.
He answered, "Until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and then you got one person voting against war. If big things happen in this country, then all of a sudden people realize we have got to change."
Then there is Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who assumed the chairmanship this week of the Western Governor's Association. His first stated goal is to draft a national energy policy he hopes to hand to the next president after Inauguration Day in January. He compared the need for a goal to find a national energy policy to President John F. Kennedy's goal in 1961 to put a man on the moon within the decade.
That goal came after the nation was embarrassed by a Soviet manned space flight, which came less than four years after the Soviets launched the world's first satellite rocket.
Frankly, Pearl Harbor and the moon landing were easy compared to today's price of gas. That doesn't diminish either of them in terms of tragedy or rallying power. But after Pearl Harbor the nation was clear on who to blame and what had to be done. Ditto with the space program. We had to beat the Soviets, period. The rest was just details.
But, as Bishop noted, even Pearl Harbor didn't result in total congressional unity. The question of an energy policy is so laden with political ballast it's a wonder even the suggestion can get off the ground.
Bishop's 12-step program (the number is supposed to remind everyone we are all addicts when it comes to foreign oil) includes a lot of things environmentalists and their congressional allies will fight without surrender. ANWR is just one. Oil shale production is another. So is the idea of utilizing the nation's "200-year coal supply" and the one about producing more energy through nuclear power.
To be fair, his bill also supports alternative energy sources, rewards innovation and promotes conservation. But when asked whether parts of the bill are deal killers, he said, "Too bad if it is. ...You can either say we're going to do everything, or you end up with nothing."
Well, the fact that all his 30 or so co-sponsors are Republicans is an indication of which it will be.
As for Huntsman's plan, it's been 11 years since I sat down with then-Gov. Mike Leavitt to find out what happened to his plan to organize a national Conference of States to force Washington to listen to the governors. He acknowledged that the only tangible thing to emerge from that effort was welfare reform.
Then he added, "It's very difficult for 50 disparate states to compete with 535 people (in Congress) who meet in the same building every day."Enemy attacks and national embarrassments do indeed shock Washington into near unanimity and resolve. Unfortunately, the shock of $4 a gallon just isn't enough to rally politicians beyond partisan rhetoric about what has to happen to make things better.