The Bush team's ridiculous and wildly inflammatory anti-drug ads are still running in heavy rotation. You know the ads I'm talking about -- the ones where innocent-looking, middle-class teens admit their culpability for the consequences of the drug trade. "I helped blow up buildings," says one doe-eyed youth.
So if that is legitimate logic, and our president says that it is, I wonder if we might turn the tables on him by starting a little ad campaign of our own to sabotage another misguided Bush campaign: the War on Conservation.
The thought occurred to me after the startling announcement that the administration was taking precious time off from an actual, necessary war -- the one on terrorism -- to sue the state of California for daring to require that carmakers put more energy-efficient models on the road.
Turning the letter of the federal Clean Air Act against its clear intent, Department of Justice lawyers lined up on behalf of the administration's friends in the hydrocarbon-loving auto-manufacturing industry and argued that as long as California's cars are in compliance with the lax federal standard, the state cannot impose a tougher one. For those keeping score, the Bush administration is in favor of states' rights when the states want to weaken federal safety standards of any kind, and against states' rights when the states want stronger measures.
So how about using the same shock-value tactics the administration uses in the drug war to confront the public with the ultimate -- and much more linearly linked -- consequences of their energy wastefulness? Imagine a soccer mom in a Ford Excursion (11 mpg city, 15 mpg highway) saying, "I'm building a nuclear bomb for Saddam Hussein." Or a mob of solo drivers toodling down the freeway at 75 mph shouting in unison, "We're buying weapons that will kill American soldiers, Marines and sailors! Yahoo!"
It's not just a fantasy. Last week, talking to my friend Scott Burns, co-creator of the "Got Milk?" campaign, I was delighted to hear that he already had two ad scripts ready to go. The first one feels like an old Slim Fast commercial. Instead of "I lost 50 pounds in two weeks" the ad cuts to different people in their SUVs: "I gassed 40,000 Kurds," "I helped hijack an airplane," "I helped blow up a nightclub," and then in unison: "We did it all by driving to work in our SUVs."
The second, which opens on a man at a gas station, features a cute kid's voice-over throughout: "This is George." Then we see a close-up of a gas pump. "This is the gas George buys for his car." Next we see a guy in a suit. "This is the oil company executive who makes money on the gas George buys." Close-up on al-Qaida training film footage: "This is the terrorist organization supported by money from the country where the oil company does business." It's followed by footage of 9/11: "We all know what this is." And it closes on a wide shot of bumper-to-bumper traffic: "The biggest weapon of mass destruction is parked in your driveway." Pretty effective.
Can the administration seriously deny that oil dollars do, actually, finance a spreading slick of evil in the world today? In Iraq, oil money has kept Saddam's repressive regime afloat even in the midst of tough U.N. sanctions. According to a report just released by the CIA, Saddam has been spending his oil money on conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction, while starving and torturing his own people.
In Saudi Arabia, our second largest foreign supplier of oil, the money you spend at the pump over here pays for a feudal monarchy that gorges itself on excess while bankrolling terrorist mischief abroad with its support of suicide bombers.
Even our close ally Kuwait, our 11th largest oil supplier, manifests an ambivalence toward America that, if you accept the Bush administration's drug-war arguments about the validity of remote effects, resulted in this month's assassination of an American Marine on military exercises. Thank you, Exxon.
Would it be so painful for us to slow down the intravenous drip of oil that keeps these hideously anti-American regimes alive? There are car companies with electric and hybrid cars already on the market. And a little pressure on our wasteful ways could unleash a new wave of good old American inventiveness.
But instead of applying the marketing skills it uses for its wrongheaded drug war to the eminently worthwhile cause of saving energy, Bush Inc. has sided with the Enrons of the world to stifle energy-saving technology and keep America in an artificially prolonged state of dependence.
Of course, waiting for the Bush administration to get religion on energy conservation would be about as fruitful as waiting for Saddam to welcome U.S. inspectors to his palaces. It ain't gonna happen. Unless, that is, the public makes it happen. Anyone willing to pay for a people's ad campaign to jolt our leaders into reality?