Why Aren't Candidates Talking Conservation? Why aren't the two presidential candidates talking more about conservation in this era of high gas prices? Jody Powell, press secretary during Jimmy Carter's presidency, discusses Carter's famous energy conservation speeches in the late 1970s.
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Why Aren't Candidates Talking Conservation?

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Why Aren't Candidates Talking Conservation?

Why Aren't Candidates Talking Conservation?

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From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up how protests in Berkeley and riots in Watts tarnished the Californian dream.

BRAND: Californians and everyone else are experiencing the relentless rise in oil prices as another work week gets underway. Today, oil spiked above 143 dollars a barrel for the first time.

COHEN: Both presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have proposed ways to deal with these high prices. Everything from more drilling off-shore to increased reliance on alternative energy.

BRAND: But we haven't heard the likes of this.

(Soundbite of vintage audio)

President JIMMY CARTER: I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every state, country and city and every average American in our energy battle.

BRAND: Jimmy Carter back in 1979 urging Americans to conserve energy and urging Congress to pass legislation dealing with energy dependence. Flash forward almost 30 years the situation is not all that different. Good old-fashioned conservation still is the surest and fastest way to ease the fuel crunch. But conservation is getting little attention from politicians. Joining me to consider why that is is Jimmy Carter's former press secretary Jody Powell. Jody Powell, welcome to the program.

Mr. JODY POWELL (Press Secretary to President Jimmy Carter): Thank you very much. It is good to be with you.

BRAND: At the time how was that speech received?

Mr. POWELL: Well, it was received extremely well by the American public. In fact, I remember the White House switchboard reporting that they had received more favorable calls in response to that speech than any other presidential speech since they began recording. It was not received very well by Washington pundits and commentators and a lot of members of the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike because it was a very profound criticism of the way this government had operated in its failure to get our country ready to prepare for the challenges of the future. And as we look back now all these years since then particularly in the area of energy, it is clear that we are less prepared for the challenges that we face today than we were when President Carter left office, and that is a huge tragedy.

BRAND: There is a part of the speech I want to play for you. It's really an extraordinary part of the speech, and let's just hear from President Carter.

(Soundbite of vintage audio)

President CARTER: Take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel.

BRAND: And now, that's really extraordinary. He's really calling for some self sacrifice there, and I don't think I've heard a politician ask for that kind of sacrifice from Americans since.

Mr. POWELL: I think we have fallen into a pattern of treating the American people almost with contempt, almost like children. The assumption seems to be that Americans are just not capable of unselfish actions, and he didn't just ask the American people for their help he said the government is going to do its part to. The things that Congress is now debating most of the programs that they are talking about now were there in 1980. But they were, for the most part, evisorated or satisfied and elected or appealed in the years that came.

BRAND: But can you imagine why some politicians now are loath to take this on given what happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980 by Ronald Reagan, given the fact that this speech is often derided as a low mark in his presidency and something that maybe have cost him reelection.

Mr. POWELL: Well, I've never frankly, I've never heard anybody say it may have caused him reelection.

BRAND: Well one of the factors, one of the factors.

Mr. POWELL: Generally speaking, if in the end you win the next election no matter what you did or didn't do up to that point you're considered a genius. If you lose the next election, then nobody wants to be associated with you or just about anything that you did or stood for. And if anything I think Democrats are in some ways more guilty of that than even Republicans are.

BRAND: So if you were advising Barack Obama or John McCain right now to make this kind of speech and to urge Americans to conserve - a conservation speech, what would you, as a former press secretary, what would you say would be the best way to communicate that?

Mr. POWELL: I wouldn't advise either one of them just to make just a conservation speech. I would urge both of them to be very honest about the fact that there may not be in the short term, it may be more sacrifice than benefit but for our long term good and the long term benefit of our children and grandchildren this is what needs to be done. I think Americans will respond to that.

BRAND: Jody Powell, thanks very much.

Mr. POWELL: Thank you.

BRAND: That's Jody Powell, former press secretary for President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

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