Thomas Friedman: Seeds for a Geo-Green Party

“The Patriot Tax” – I like that idea.

Seeds for a Geo-Green Party
Published: June 16, 2006

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 at 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.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

1$ a gallon, for those of us in the rest of the world, thats about 22 cents a liter. Most of europe pays much more than and extra 22 cents a liter in tax, they are more than half way to achieving the goals stated.

Could it be that Friedman finally has a winner of an idea? His faith in government is perhaps misplaced however, and American voters…they put Bush into office twice, and he is obviously dishonest. Its not a bet I would be taking I’m afraid.

June 16, 2006 @ 1:17 am | Comment

I like Friedman’s idea of a Geo-Green party but I don’t think $1 tax on gasoline would fly. Better yet, why don’t we just withdraw from Iraq and save tons of money. Use that money to fund alternative fuel research. We’ve ridden Iraq people of their dictator, given them a democracy and now they would have to fend for themselves. We’ll even provide them with weapons and cash. But we can’t be their nanny forever!

June 16, 2006 @ 8:23 am | Comment

I stopped reading Friedman’s column after he said

“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.”

Sorry, but if I’m going to pay the price for another federal tax, so can everyone else. I generally agree with Friedman’s politics, but this column goes a little too far. America is better off with two political parties for a variety of reasons.

June 16, 2006 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

I for one would be totally for a third party (or the Democrats if by some miracle they embraced this idea). Anyone who has read The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery probably feel as I do that we need to make some drastic changes and soon. I see no reason to believe that either major party will take the steps necessary to lead this country in a geo-green direction. A dollar a gallon tax is little to pay for what good it would bring about and take the gas guzzlers off the road.

June 18, 2006 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

There’s no need to form a new Geo-Green party. The Green Party already exists.

July 2, 2006 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

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