Why are we bogged down in two wars in the Middle East?

Why are we gambling with the planet to get ever more energy, with miners dying in the coal mines and the people and animals of the Gulf of Mexico suffering and dying?

Do we lack leadership in the USA?

Perhaps the problem lies not so much with the government of this nation as with the unwillingness of the people to make the sacrifices that good leadership might ask of them.

In 1979 we had a scientist as a president, a physicist who had served for nearly a decade as a science officer in the US Navy. Although he is usually not remembered as such, he was the president that told us the truth and asked us to do what was necessary to have a good future. In an address to the nation referred to as his “Malaise” speech, he said to us,

“I’m asking you for your good and for your nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense—I tell you it is an act of patriotism.

Our nation must be fair to the poorest among us, so we will increase aid to needy Americans to cope with rising energy prices. We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation’s strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own lives.”

The President had turned down the thermostat at the White House and installed solar panels on the roof. He wore a sweater for the speech because the room was cool. Many in the media ridiculed the president for this, as did a candidate running against him, named Ronald Reagan. Sadly, the opinion of Carter’s advisors that the people would follow his advice and conserve energy was wrong; the people went for the actor. Reagan said that the American Way of Life would not be compromised, and once elected he took the solar panels off the roof and killed the Carter Energy Plan, which would have had us independent of imported oil by 1990—the year the Middle East wars for oil began.

After Reagan dismantled the energy plan, he cut and ran from suicide bombers in Lebanon, sending the message that they could defeat the U.S., and he armed and trained the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan that we are fighting now. In the epilogue (called “Unintended Consequences”) to Charley Wilson’s War, the author writes that we convinced the Islamic fundamentalists that they could defeat a superpower.

Now I ask you: Who was the real leader and who was the failure?–R. Lane Anderson, S.B.


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