Robert Dujarric writes in the Christian Science Monitor that the Obama administration should appeal to patriotism to get Americans motivated to kick the oil addiction. Bush tried this approach back in 2006, but his weak solution was to fund more research (a form of delay) and to prioritize ethanol (which often equates to oil hidden in fertilizers and pesticides, and has unsavory consequences for world food prices).
Dujarric notes that historically in times of war the U.S. government has successfully played the patriot card for various goals: recruiting, war bonds, rationing, etc. Sociologically this argument is dead. America today is a post-sacrifice dreamland. In an economy driven by consumption, there are no costs, only opportunities.
[This is the fluff fed to the American people through marketing, from the bully pulpit (go to war and lower taxes), and by a media that sanitizes the true human experience of war or revolution. (The photos leaked from Abu Ghraib were an exception to this taboo, and the Neda Sultan video a stark intrusion of the Real.) Little wonder our fictional visual media constantly grow more casual, visceral, celebratory, and creative in their depiction of torture and murder. The problem is less that these media motivate violence and more that they are an expression of our repressed refusal to maturely engage the ongoing violence and evil of our world, whether banal or dramatic—poverty, rapes in Congo, strip mining.]
Practically speaking Obama has been reluctant to coax or force people into cutting oil consumption. During the campaign he rejected the idea of raising gasoline taxes, which would have satisfied Dujarric's desire to make life harder for authoritarian petrocrats. And now the administration is handcuffed by the need to stimulate the economy, while the underlying fundamental problem has not been solved: the economy equals pollution. Dujarric rightly notes that the global recession has been the only effective means of slowing emissions.
But the major fault line in his argument is its appeal to a very retrograde expression of patriotism, one based on fear, hate, enemies, and "the other." Gone are the days when we can blanket lump and demonize a "foreign" people to accomplish domestic or international goals. Destabilization of regimes and democracy promotion of this stripe is dead.
If Obama wants to appeal to American patriotism, he should elevate the debate. Americans pride themselves on being the type of people who don't run from their responsibilities. And when you look at current, cumulative, and per capita emissions, Americans bear a lot of responsibility for the current crisis.
Going forward, successful nations will be defined less by whom they confront, and more by what they can construct (and how they share it). This in the end is one symbolic lesson of the falling towers of 9/11: What have we built?
Given the urgency of global warming, the situation has moved past specific battles like saving polar bears to the idea of saving civilization. But this requires that we also be civilized. To achieve this, honesty is the change people have been waiting for, not jingoism.