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Bush: Addicted to Empty Rhetoric

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There is nothing more infuriating than hearing something you passionately believe in -- and indeed have been advocating for years -- cynically co-opted by someone who clearly doesn't mean it.

That's why the smoke started pouring out of my ears Tuesday night when President Bush announced: "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

How much the president didn't mean anything by his bold statement became crystal clear the day after the State of the Union when his own Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, said that the president's call "to make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past" should not be taken literally. Trust me, Sam, I didn't.

Hearing this presidential diagnosis from an oilman starting the sixth year of an administration that has unwaveringly turned the White House into a veritable full-service fueling station for Big Oil -- allowing oil refinery merger after oil refinery merger, doling out billions in tax breaks to energy interests, deriding conservation, and steadfastly refusing to increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars -- was like hearing the makers of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos denounce the coarsening of our culture.

I also wondered if the Detroit Project, which I cofounded with Lawrence Bender, Laurie David, and Ari Emanuel, should ask the White House for a royalty check.

Three years ago, we produced a series of TV ads urging American consumers to connect the dots between the cars we drive, our addiction to oil, and our national security.

The ads were a satiric response to the outrageous drug war ads the Bush administration had flooded the airwaves with, linking drug use to terrorism. We decided to turn the tables and point out the much more credible link between our SUVs, our oil addiction, and our national security.

Here are two of the ads:

Even before they were released, the ads caused a sensation -- getting a lot of free media attention while being rejected by stations in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles as too controversial.

What's more, many of the president's supporters accused us of being unpatriotic, of attacking all that was good about America -- which apparently included an insatiable demand for oil. And now the president has adopted many of our talking points (maybe he finally got around to reading this State of the Union speech I wrote for him in 2003).

If only he meant it. But the sincerity of Bush's Road to Damascus moment is belied by his utter refusal to actually champion the steps needed for us to break our addiction.

Besides repeatedly opposing higher fuel-mileage standards, the White House also successfully fought to remove a provision in the recent energy bill that called for a one-million-barrel-a-day cut in oil consumption by 2015. The bill, supported and signed by Bush, also eliminated a provision requiring utility companies to "generate at least 10 percent of their electricity through renewable fuels by 2020." As Think Progress points out, Bush has long given lip service to making America less dependent on foreign oil, while increasing our reliance on foreign oil from 58 percent in 2000 to 66 percent today.

His words say break the oil addiction, but his policies keep mainlining the stuff into the body politic.

If the president were really serious about helping us break the habit, his headline-grabbing rhetoric would have been accompanied by concrete proposals that would have an immediate effect on reducing our reliance on foreign oil.

Developing ethanol from "wood chips" and "switch grass" is all well and good -- but nowhere near as good as upping CAFE standards. An improvement of just 3 mpg nationwide would save 1 million barrels of oil per day. The president could also close the outrageous loophole that allows buyers of extra-large gas-guzzling SUVs to take extra-large deductions on their taxes. And he could flip the tax equation by providing incentives and deductions to those who purchase more fuel-efficient cars.

And if he really wanted to put his policies where his mouth is, he could get behind the Apollo Alliance's ten-year, ten-point plan for achieving energy independence.

But he won't. He'd rather talk the talk, while defending the obscene oil company profits his policies have enabled.

"I meant what I said [Tuesday] night," Bush insisted yesterday, "that America's addiction for oil is bad for this country."

The question, Mr. President, is not whether our oil addiction is bad -- clearly it is. The question is, what are you going to do about it?