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Published: Monday, 10/10/2005

Hog wild on energy

For a White House that prides itself in keeping relentlessly "on message" to sell its policies to the American public, the Bush Administration has come up with a jarringly negative image for the new energy conservation program.

The mascot is a cartoon character called "Energy Hog," a malevolent-looking pig that wears blue jeans and a leather jacket, with a chain around its neck.

Whether this grungy beast, whose name is too reminiscent of "Gas Hog," will be successful in marketing a positive concept like saving energy is questionable, at best, but no one should be surprised that the tactic appears backward.

This is, after all, the same White House that has collectively sneered at the idea of energy conservation for the past five years. From fighting stronger fuel economy standards for motor vehicles to failing to advance energy-saving standards for home appliances, the Bush Administration has been the antithesis of green.

Indeed, President Bush and his retinue have actively sought to cast themselves as leaders of a sport-utility vehicle culture that could not care less about saving energy, on the road or at home.

Then came $3 a gallon gasoline, after which SUV sales tanked, and forecasts of natural gas heating bills 71 percent higher than last year. And out trots Energy Hog to help administration officials spread the word to drive slower and turn down the thermostat at home.

This is better than Mr. Bush's recent off-the-cuff advice to motorists - "If you don't need gas, don't buy it" - but not much.

Wasting energy, whether in our choice of cars or the plethora of electronic gadgets at home, has become so ingrained in American habits that it will take more than public service announcements on radio and television to reverse.

Moreover, the Energy Hog is a negative symbol, with none of the positive vibes of earlier government public relations icons like Smokey Bear, who earnestly intoned "Only you can prevent forest fires," or McGruff the Crime Dog, who growled "Take a bite out of crime."

Indications are that the administration wants to avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter, who became president in the midst of an energy crisis in 1977 and was ridiculed for addressing the nation in a cardigan sweater from a 65-degree White House.

The difference is that Mr. Carter came up with a comprehensive energy policy that actually reduced the nation's dependence on foreign oil during his tenure in Washington whereas the current incumbent has trouble articulating any tactic that doesn't include drilling in a wildlife refuge or off the coast of Florida.

In short, Mr. Bush cannot expect to ride the Energy Hog to victory in his new conservation crusade.



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