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Dear Mister President

American Driver

President Bush, sir: Several pundits and more than a few patriots have wondered why we—the body politic—haven't been asked to make a few sacrifices of our own as the War on Terrorism (and maybe Iraq) goes forward. Obviously, those families who have lent their kin to the military buildup in the Middle East are making huge sacrifices in a hundred ways, but what about the rest of us?

I have a suggestion. If you would like to defray some of the cost of the War on Terrorism and, at the same time, do some worthwhile good on the automotive home front, please consider slapping a one-dollar War on Terrorism Gasoline Surtax on every gallon of gasoline sold in these United States of America. At the same time, however, I beg that you resist the natural and near-irresistible temptation to impose a similar surtax on diesel fuel.

The Department of Energy reports that we used about 131 billion gallons of gasoline (plus 40 billion gallons of diesel fuel) last year. Statistics suggest that gasoline consumption in the U.S.A. increases by about 2 billion gallons per annum, so that we'll probably be burning something closer to 133 billion gallons in 2003. In fact, the University of Oklahoma's Sarkeys Energy Center notes that this amounts to something on the order of 690 gallons of gasoline burned per year per licensed driver, and thus—if my suggestion flies in your councils—every driver in the country would be paying roughly $690 in War on Terrorism Gasoline Surtax every year until we have terminally discouraged the more warlike elements among the nations of Islam.

This is not as big a commitment as personally marching off to war or saying goodbye to a son or daughter, brother or sister, or husband or wife who chooses to do so, but it would help to focus our self-indulgent minds on events among the bomb throwers and the beheaders of women who only wanted to leave their homes unmasked and maybe get an education.

If the War on Terrorism Gasoline Surtax were fairly and consistently applied across the gasoline-burning universe—no exemptions, no loopholes—it would generate some $133 billion in 2003 alone. This would not pay for a full-scale war, but it would buy an awful lot of 5.57-millimeter community relations ammunition and warehouses full of whatever those things were that turned a carload of al-Qaida enthusiasts into a grease spot on the floor of the Yemeni desert. This fresh stream of revenue might allow our republic to pursue the War on Terrorism with less dislocation among the day-to-day governmental activities that help to make this the one nation in the world where everybody else wants to live. And since the politics of oil are all bound up in these disputes, let oil pay its share of the cost.

There would be collateral benefits. Anybody driving a car, truck, or sport-utility vehicle that delivered fuel economy in the low teens would think seriously about his or her personal transportation priorities at the end of a day spent driving from New York to Chicago with three or four stops for fuel replenishment along the way. If they could spend $220 for four tanks of fuel without denying food to their children, God bless them. They would be contributing disproportionately to the war effort, and to the common good. If the cost was too great, the world's automobile industry builds dozens of cool little cars that are great fun to drive and cut the cost of that pleasure in half. If you can't manage without a sport-utility vehicle, consider the Subaru Forester, the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Mazda Tribute, or the Ford Escape. If you want a fast, exciting sport sedan but can't afford a double sawbuck's worth of gasoline for the daily forty-mile commute, the people who sell the MINI Cooper, the Ford SVT Focus, the Subaru Impreza WRX, the Honda Civic Si, the Mazda Protege5, or the Volkswagen GTI 1.8T feel your pain and are standing by with a cure for what ails you. The standard passenger car, enhanced by a full ration of electronic management systems, would be an interesting alternative again.

But wait! There's more! The War on Terrorism Gasoline Surtax also would encourage large numbers of Americans finally to get over their unwillingness to fund or to utilize various forms of mass transit. The commuter train that you ride to work or school is unlikely to suffer a flat tire or a dead battery on Tuesday morning. But if it does, they send another one to take its place. Try making that happen when your 1984 Jeep Grand Wagoneer gives up the ghost on the morning of the big meeting or the final exam.

Finally, resisting the impulse to slap a matching surtax on diesel fuel will mean that manufactured goods and raw materials that travel by truck will be less costly to the end user. But more important, for those of us who love the automobile in all its forms, is that it would mean the availability of completely clean, safe, high-performance diesel-powered cars, just like the ones our European counterparts drive. They get better mileage from fuel that costs less, and they are the bestselling cars in the European market.

Put me down for a VW Phaeton with the astonishingly powerful 5.0-liter V-10 turbo-diesel engine that delivers more than 25 miles per gallon combined city/highway. Then we'll shanghai the obstructionist members of the California Air Resources Board and force them to serve the rest of their working lives as indentured deckhands on ships bringing diesel-powered cars to America.