Should President Bush Be Telling Americans to Conserve Gas?

  • Published on July 16th, 2008

worst president everAt a Tuesday White House press conference that focused mostly on the current economic downturn, President Bush indicated that he has no intention of calling on Americans to conserve gasoline, according to a report at Politico.

President Bush said, “They’re smart enough to figure out whether they’re going to drive less or not…the consumer’s plenty bright.”

The President explained the justification for his position by saying, “It’s a little presumptuous on my part to dictate how consumers live their own lives.”

But past examples show that President Bush has had no problem dictating how “consumers live their own lives,” at least when it syncs with his own political agenda. Surely you remember December of 2006, when teetering on the brink of a national economic recession, the President implored Americans to shop more:

“As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. … And I encourage you all to go shopping more.”

Of course, there was also the notorious Bush call to go shopping in the time after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when President Bush insisted:

“Americans must get back to work, to go shopping, going to the theatre [sic], to help get the country back on a sounder financial footing.”

I am not arguing that it is necessarily the President’s job to recommend that consumers drive less, nor urge us to find other ways to conserve gasoline (though that would be nice). I am not looking for my government to become a so-called “nanny state” that micromanages all the details of my daily economic life.

I am arguing that the President of the United States is supposed to be a leader – sort of a ‘first citizen,’ if you will – that has the ability to send signals (both subtle and overt) that can have an appreciable impact on what we do and how we do it. Even a Lame Duck President with a 28 percent public approval rating has the ability to influence someone, right? Yes, the American people are smart, but economically determined aggregations of individual rational choices do not always work out to be the “best” ones at the collective level.

The problem is that President Bush cannot reconcile our need to cut carbon emissions with his belief that we cannot do so without “crippling the economy.”  And remember we are talking about a (former) Texas oilman. Perhaps President Bush’s affinity for “product,” as he sometimes refers to it, creates an internal conflict that prevents him from suggesting that we somehow use less of it, when all he wants to do is drill for more of it.

The fact that Mr. Bush can’t recognize Americans may need some political leadership to help stabilize energy consumption and rein-in carbon emissions has stood in the way of any substantive action on climate change in the seven and a half years President Bush’s tenure.

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Photo: © Patricia Marroquin |

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.


  • There is no need to expect anyone in Washington to change the energy policies.

    They are all about oil and greed. There is no reason for us to be in this mess. I blame both parties. T. Boone Pickens has a great plan but you don't hear either candidate even mentioning his plan. If this world continues, I cringe to think what our Children/Grandchildren will be faced with.

  • You make a great point. Bush does tell the public what to do when it suits his political agenda, but telling people what to do to help preserve the environment doesn't seem to be part of his agenda.

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  • Here's the important bit:

    THE PRESIDENT: I think people ought to conserve and be wise about how they use gasoline and energy. Absolutely. And there's some easy steps people can take. You know, if they're not in their home, they don't keep their air-conditioning running. There's a lot of things people can do.

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