A large part of the reason I am drawn to Barack Obama as a presidential candidate is his ability to recognize that in order to create change, a change agent must be willing to ask fellow citizens to make a few sacrifices.

In reading Thomas Friedman’s column today in the Times, one paragraph struck me as representing the fundamental difference between the politics of the last generation and the new politics of this generation — a common good politics.

It baffles me that President Bush would rather go to Saudi Arabia twice in four months and beg the Saudi king for an oil price break than ask the American people to drive 55 miles an hour, buy more fuel-efficient cars or accept a carbon tax or gasoline tax that might actually help free us from what he called our ‘addiction to oil.’

President Bush is a man who is not qualified to pull the trigger on change. Why would he want things to be any different than the status quo? He will do everything he can to fix our energy problem by staying in a system that is financially friendly to both him and his oil-bathing cronies. Sure, we have a country enslaved by OPEC with billions of dollars leaking out of our economy and falling into the coffers of middle-eastern economies. In fact, a study showed that $160 billion was spent on our addiction to oil in 2004 when gas prices hit a then-outrageously high $1.75/gallon. We surely are losing even more money today. But why would a president with friends in the oil industry — a former oilman himself — worry about that? He doesn’t, which is why he’d rather pay visits to Saudi Arabia than ask Americans to make sacrifices that might threaten his former vocation.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, advocates something new. Instead of examining problems with a selfish lens, he recognizes the necessity of compromise or sacrifice. A recent example is Obama’s stand against the push for a gas tax holiday to be implemented this summer. Obama rightly recognizes that while it might help short-term, the long-term effects of the holiday will make all of us worse off than we are now. Oil companies will raise the price to take advantage of the tax’s absence; bridges — like the one in Minneapolis that collapsed last summer — and other vital pieces of our infrastructure will be threatened because the funding won’t be there.

When I assess the competition this summer and fall — Obama versus McCain — I see someone who is principled, who can zero in on a problem, resolve it intelligently and with everyone’s interests in mind, and then I see someone who has lobbyists advising his campaign.

In the end, we will be picking our poison: we continue driving our SUV 65 mph while complaining about the price of gas, or we take a short-term hit by investing in energy-efficient vehicles, travel a bit slower, and continue to build our nation’s infrastructure. Framed that way, it doesn’t seem as if it’s a hard choice — does it?

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