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Seeds for a Geo-Green party

The recent focus of the Republican-led Congress on divisive diversions, like gay marriage and flag burning, coupled with the unveiling of Unity '08, an Internet-based third party that plans to select its presidential candidate through online voting, has intensified the chatter that a third party, and maybe even a fourth, will emerge in the 2008 election.

Up to now, though, most of that talk has been about how a third party might galvanize voters, using the Web, rather than what it would actually galvanize them to do. I'd like to toss out an idea in the hopes that some enterprising politician or group of citizens — or Unity '08 — will develop it. It's the concept I call "Geo-Green."

What might a Geo-Green third party platform look like?

Its centerpiece would be a $1 a gallon gasoline tax, called "The Patriot Tax," which would be phased in over a year. People earning less than $50,000 a year, and those with unusual driving needs, would get a reduction on their payroll taxes as an offset.

The billions of dollars raised by the Patriot Tax would go first to shore up Social Security, second to subsidize clean mass transit in and between every major American city, third to reduce the deficit, and fourth to massively increase energy research by the National Science Foundation and the Energy and Defense Departments' research arms.

Most important, though, the Patriot Tax would increase the price of gasoline to a level that would ensure that many of the most promising alternatives — ethanol, biodiesel, coal gasification, solar energy, nuclear energy and wind — would all be economically competitive with oil and thereby reduce both our dependence on crude and our emissions of greenhouse gases.

In short: the Geo-Green party could claim that it has a plan for shoring up America's energy security, environmental security, economic security and Social Security with one move.

It could also claim that — however the Iraq war ends — the Geo-Green party has a strategy for advancing political and economic reform in the Arab-Muslim world, without another war. By stimulating all these alternatives to oil, we would gradually bring down the price, possibly as low as $25 to $30 a barrel. That, better than anything else, would force regimes like those in Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Angola, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to open up. Countries don't reform when you tell them they should. They reform when they tell themselves they must — and only when the price of oil goes down will they tell themselves they must.

Moreover, by making America the leader in promoting clean power, the Geo-Greens would be offering a credible plan for recouping a lot of America's lost prestige in the world — prestige it lost when the Bush team trashed Kyoto. This would put America in a much better position to galvanize allies to combat jihadism.

Last, Geo-Greenism could be the foundation of a new American patriotism and educational renaissance. Under the banner "Green is the New Red, White and Blue," the Geo-Green party would seek to inspire young Americans to study math, science and engineering to help make America not only energy independent but also the dominant player in what will be the dominant industry of the 21st century: clean power and green technology.

Frankly, I wish we did not need a third party. I wish the Democrats would adopt a Geo-Green agenda as their own. (Republicans never would.) But if not, I hope it will become the soul of a third party.

"Historically, third parties arise in America when they seize a neglected issue and demonstrate that there is a real constituency for it," said Micah Sifry, author of "Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America." "They win by forcing that issue into the mainstream — even if the party itself is later forgotten. Conditions certainly seem ripe for such a third-party bid today."

But rather than artificially splitting the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, Mr. Sifry added, "a successful third party has to get in front of both — with an agenda that inspires hope and with leadership that inspires trust. Fear of a dark future isn't the best motivator; hope for a better one is."

That's Geo-Greenism. To be sure, Geo-Greenism is not a complete philosophy on par with liberalism or conservatism. But it can be paired with either of them to make them more relevant to the biggest challenges of our time. Even if Geo-Greenism couldn't attract enough voters to win an election, it might attract a big enough following to frighten both Democrats and Republicans into finally doing the right things.

Editorial Notes: The column is posted in multiple places on the Web: Petaluma Argus (California) Bradenton Herald (Florida) Flaming Grasshopper Energy independence and "geo-greens" have been a continual theme in Friedman's writings. Geo-Greening by Example Interview with Grist Interview with Amy Goodman OnPoint interview Commentary on Friedman and geo-greens: Discussion at The Oil Drum Criticism by Kelpie Wilson Criticism by Jon S. David Roberts at Gristmill has a grumpy response to the recent column:
Why don't the Democrats adopt the geo-green agenda? Friedman doesn't speculate... Oh, or wait. Maybe it's because if Democrats so much as breathed a hint of a gas tax, Republicans would immediately attack and vilify them, ensuring an electoral catastrophe. And guess what? Republicans would do that to a third party, too. The primary impediment to good energy policy is the domination of America's ruling party by corporate interests with a financial stake in the status quo. Republican corporatism serves those wealthy interests at the expense of the larger public. Period.
I dunno. The Democrats haven't struck me as a fount of wisdom and foresight on energy. Official Democratic positions seem superficial, opportunistic and timid ("hybrids and ethanol"). The most interesting policy work is being done outside the party, by the netroots, as in the recent Energize America campaign from Daily Kos. The Center for American Progress has just begun a major effort, Kick the Oil Habit. And a few individual Democrats like Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer have been developing positions on energy (coal-to-gas, in his case). But these are individual efforts, not representative of the Democratic Party as a whole. In the meantime, some interesting efforts have been coming from the Republicans, many of whom are dissatisfied with the Bush administration. Conservative Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett continues his Mr-Smith-Goes-To-Washington campaign to raise peak oil awareness. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and current chairman Ben S. Bernanke are speaking less and less cryptically about their worries about energy and the economy. The green hawks echo Friedman in their concern for energy concern; spokesmen include ex-CIA directors James Woolsey and James Schlesinger as well as the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) Some of the most rigorous analyses of the U.S. energy situation, are appearing in military journals and reports. To sum up, I think Friedman's position is much stronger than David Roberts believes. If the threat of a third party can wake up Democrats and Republicans, so much the better. -BA

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