Sunday, December 2, 2007

Politics as Usual – Where is a Leader?

It is that time of the year – political demagoguery to seek the presidential nomination. No wonder it is easy to become inured to politics. Not one candidate exhibits the qualities of leadership but, instead, each is busy tearing down the other, trying to appease every voter. Politics as usual. Leadership as usual.

Whatever you might think of John F. Kennedy, he knew how to articulate an objective and rally the nation behind his viewpoint, albeit he was also a crafty politician – perhaps one of the best in my lifetime.

The Cold War was at its peak when he took office and behind the guise of exploring space and shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, Kennedy threw down the gauntlet on May 25, 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” It was a masterful stroke to rekindle American pride in the post Sputnik era and to establish a battleground in the Cold War (unfortunately, the other one being Viet Nam which was gradually being funded at the same time).

I remember how preposterous and unbelievable this objective seemed at the time, surely an impossible one to achieve. It was something more likely to come out of H. G. Wells or Jules Verne rather than the President of the United States. But I also remember sitting in an apartment on the upper west side of NYC with my future wife (Ann) on July 20, 1969 watching Neil Armstrong taking that “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

How does this relate to today’s Presidential race? Where is the candidate who says, “If you elect me I will dedicate our country to achieving energy independence within a decade.” And this must be the central message of our future leader as all other issues, and in particular the economy and the environment, stem from our addiction to oil.

I remember the GE science fairs that were given at NYC high schools in the 1950’s. The prototype of a solar power car was shown on stage and, then, when a spotlight was focused on its solar cells, the car slowly moved across the stage. It was proclaimed that this would be the car of the future in twenty-five years! The rudimentary technology existed even then, but as gas was 23 cents a gallon and we were able to produce the majority of our energy needs domestically, we did not need the backbone to commit our nation’s resources to alternative energy. And at that time we were unaware of the long-term effect of fossil fuels on our environment.

While the goal of putting a man on the moon with the decade sounded impossible in 1961, energy independence indeed will be impossible without committing to it as a national goal. Failing to achieve that will leave our nation hostage to foreign interests. We think we are fighting the war on terrorism in Iraq. That war is stealthy brewing closer to home as our dollar declines, foreign interests are buying up assets, and we continue to mortgage our future by borrowing.

Not only do we have to create better incentives for conservation, but we have to use, further perfect, and expand our proven nuclear, solar, fuel cell, hydrogen, and wind technologies not to mention the newer tidal and wave technologies. Honda has already produced a hydrogen car that gets 68 miles to the gallon, the only “waste” product being water Is anyone in Detroit or Washington listening?

If one of the presidential candidates ran solely on the platform of energy independence by 2017, he/she has my vote.