Frank Rich makes an important point near the end of his column today:
If Obama is to have a truly transformative presidency, there could be no better catalyst than oil. Standard Oil jump-started Progressive Era trust-busting. Sinclair Oil’s kickback-induced leases of Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oilfields in the 1920s led to the first conviction and imprisonment of a presidential cabinet member (Harding’s interior secretary) for a crime committed while in the cabinet. The Arab oil embargo of the early 1970s and the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 sped the conservation movement and search for alternative fuels. The Enron scandal prompted accounting reforms and (short-lived) scrutiny of corporate Ponzi schemes.
Rich doesn’t offer any policy prescriptions. And the first that comes to mind–a stiff tax on fossil fuels (with the money returned to the public in the form of lower payroll taxes)–is wildly controversial. But Rich is right: it’s time to confront this cancer head on.