When President Carter first introduced his energy bill, he described it as the "moral equivalent of war." The bill now being debated in the Senate bears no resemblance to the one Carter asked for. What went wrong?
To find out I went to see an Energy general at his headquarters. He had charts all over the war room and his aiders were pushing dollar signs back and forth across a large map on the table.
"How's the war going?" I asked.
"Everything's going according to plan," he replied. "Our boys should be home from the Senate by Christmas."
"Reports from the front lines indicate you poeple took a terrible mauling from the oil and gas companies, and the energy bill that the commander-in-chief was hoping to get is in ruins."
The general scowled. "We had to destroy the bill to save it."
"But didn't your people surrender on every major front?"
"We didn't surrender," he said. "We made an orderly retreat. When you're waging the moral equivalent of war, you have to expect casualities. We lost the battle on deregulation of gas, and we suffered a setback on the excise profits tax on oil, and we were hit with a surprise attack in our attempts to make industry switch from gas to coal. But we decided they weren't worth fighting for. Our main objective now is to rescue the energy bill before it is killed.
"I thought the original objective was to protect the consumer and conserve our oil and gas supplies."
"The consumer is safe," the general said. "He may have to pay more for gas and oil if the bill is saved, but you can't fight a moral war without some civilians getting hurt. The strategy of the commander-in-chief is to win the hearts and minds of the people so we can have free elections in 1980"
"What about conservation? Your forces seem to have lost that battle."
"We haven't lost the battle. We've just changed our tactics. Instead of charging up the HILL, we have the enemy surrounded. If they expect to survive, they're going to have to produce more oil and gas. Our troops are dug in and our intelligence indicates morale amongst the major oil companies is dropping every day. It's only a matter of time before the energy forces that have been fighting us will wave the white flag."
"They seem to have won everything they wanted. Even if they sued for peace tomorow what will your side have gained?"
The general said bitterly, "The media keeps saying we're losing. But there is more at stake here than whether we win or lose a few skirmishes. Do you realize if we don't save the energy bill, the entire prestige of the United States will go down the drain? The dollar will be attacked and the national will of Americans to fight for energy will be in doubt."
An aide put several more dollar signs on the map.
"What's he doing?" I asked the general.
"We have to put more bucks into the line," the general said. "Our original estimates of what this war would cost every American were much lower than we thought."
"Why don't you people just quit and start all over again?"
"Because," said the general tartly, "the commander-in-chief doesn't want to go down in history as the first president to have lost a moral equivalent of war."