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Calls to sacrifice haven't yet come from Obama or McCain

August 01, 2008

This space is usually reserved for editorials on issues of local interest in Washington County and the Tri-State area, but as the presidential campaign heats up, The Herald-Mail editors felt we needed to make a strong statement about something we haven't seen happening so far.

What we're missing is an appeal to citizens by either major party candidate to sacrifice for the good of the nation.

We have heard from older relatives and TV documentaries about the organized campaigns to recycle and ration during World War II. For the most part, citizens were glad to participate, because they felt their efforts were helping to win the war.

In the 1970s, during an oil embargo, President Jimmy Carter asked citizens to turn down their thermostats and carpool to work.

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He also asked retailers to turn off unnecessary lighting and proposed a cap on foreign oil imports.

The national speed limit became 55 mph and gasoline was rationed.

Motorists with license plates that ended in odd numbers could purchase gasoline two days a week, while those whose plates ended in even numbers could buy on two other days.

Carter also proposed that American-built cars be required to meet a 48 mpg standard.

But after Carter's defeat and the easing of oil restrictions, conservation went the way of the dinosaurs.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush advised Americans to go shopping. News reports say that had a beneficial effect on the U.S. economy, but left some citizens feeling as if they ought to do more.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted domestic oil supplies, Bush did ask citizens to do more. His speech echoed Carter's calls for conservation, asking people to turn off lights and carpool.

Now, because of rising energy prices, Americans face an economic downturn that will leave many of the nation's most vulnerable citizens - the working poor and senior citizens- without enough cash to pay for electricity and heating oil.

These are not the people who feel that society owes them a handout. They worked hard and planned as best they could for the future, but didn't anticipate the recent surge in oil prices, an increase that affects everything else in the economy.

So far, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign rhetoric has called for a new national service program, in which veterans would be retrained for "green jobs." In April, Sen. John McCain touted the virtues of sacrifice, but in an interview with The Associated Press, he didn't offer a detailed program for how citizens should carry out their volunteer service.

At this point, both candidates' plans are vague - heavy on the rhetoric, but light on the specifics of what real national sacrifice would require.

Perhaps they feel that citizens would bristle at the idea of cutting back.

We prefer to believe that they would rally around a plan to help the nation become less dependent on foreign oil - and more focused on what free people can do when they put their minds to it.

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