Gore, Hillary go where Bush fears to tread

Green isn’t what it used to be. It was once just the color of the trees and grass that the environmental movement tried to protect. But now it is also the color of the three dollar bills Americans must suddenly pay for a gallon of gas.

Green isn’t what it used to be. It was once just the color of the trees and grass that the environmental movement tried to protect. But now it is also the color of the three dollar bills Americans must suddenly pay for a gallon of gas.

More broadly, our frustrations in Iraq and the stalemate in Iran give an indication that it is only by following where the green movement points — to independence from oil domination — that we can vindicate the red, white and blue and, for Jewish voters, the blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag.

After five months of inaction, after his “oil addiction” reference in his State of the Union speech, President Bush now faces a Democratic Party galvanized by this new rainbow coalition of colors around a coherent policy theme. While Bush has dithered and the Republicans in Congress have failed to look beyond Alaska drilling as the solution to our dependence on foreign oil, first Gore and now Hillary have passed them by and staked out their claims to the issue.

Bush cannot afford to yield this ground because it is no longer the esoteric preserve of the environmental-policy wonks. Rising gas prices have generated a populist anger at the bottom of the social ladder. The former Reagan Democrats are outraged by pump prices and demand action. Just as Republicans once lured them with promises of lower taxes, so Democrats can now appeal to them with the lure of lower gas costs. 

The reason Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” threatens the Republican grip on Washington is not only because hurricanes pound us with the increasingly clear reality of climate change but because the issue now accesses a broader popular anger at energy prices.

And what was once the green movement now even circles around behind the mainline of the Bush administration and offers the only viable long-term strategy for defeating the terrorist threat. The daily death count in Iraq makes it clear that we are funding both sides of this war — one with our taxes, the other at the pump.

Most Americans understand that without our oil dollars none of our adversaries could afford war or even suicidal terrorism. The ultimate strategy in the war on terror is energy independence — a reality that lies at the center of how the Democrats can recapture the terrorism issue.

But what makes the broader green movement particularly dangerous for the quiescent Republican Party is the oil man in the White House. If this new coalition of greens, pump-enraged dads and enlightened patriots has any single enemy, it is the oil companies and their Middle Eastern allies. But the Bush family’s history of involvement with big oil makes this a uniquely dangerous issue for the president.

Now Al Gore, riding the wave of having been right earlier than the rest of us, is making a claim to the Democratic nomination. Not to be left behind, Hillary’s exhaustive energy speech last week shows she is determined to share in the new green platform.

Hillary Clinton, quite simply, gave the speech Bush should have given. There was no ideological reason why she should have preempted the president in speaking out about the need to move to E-85 cars, but Bush’s passivity and knee-jerk reluctance to think beyond oil surrendered the battlefield, and the two Democrats occupied the vacant land. Now the Democrats have the high ground and Bush is looking up into their guns.

Can Bush regain the high ground? Of course. The president can always take any ground he chooses. He has merely to get off the dime and act. But he seems so far, so very far, from understanding what he is up against that action seems to be quite beyond him.

And on that failure to grasp the emerging gas-price/climate-change/anti-terrorism/oil-independence issue, the entire future of the Republican Party hinges. Heaven help it.

Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.