George W. Bush, Father of the Modern Electric Car

May 25, 2011

While we're basking in the short spring between presidential elections--sort of--it's time to acknowledge the debt owed by electric cars, not to today's crop of bureaucrats, but to the bête noire of progressives everywhere, President George W. Bush.

Some critics think the electric-car subsidies in place today belong to the current White House, but those line items actually are the product of Bush's second term, and they're the root of the real electric cars you can see, buy, drive and recharge today.

Before Obama raised CAFE requirements, Bush did it. And if you're looking for the stroke of the pen that created the burgeoning world of EVs around us, that stroke came from Bush's pen.

Of course, any big entitlement program has many fathers and mothers. In electric cars, the parents are everyone from the engineers who worked on the Chevy Volt's battery pack to the team that hashed out the Leaf's charging system.

Drilling deeper into the past, before the most recent oil shock, takes us to 2007's Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Presidents traditionally get credit for the actions taken below their pay grade, but in Bush's case, there's every reason to attach him to the bill beyond his signature, and to modern electric cars, reasons beyond drowning out the tired "Halliburton big-oil buddy" chant. After all, President Bill Clinton outmaneuvered the GOP on balanced budgets, and put his name to welfare reform--and rightly gets the win for signing his name to history.

Bush gets credit for the energy bill, which was the cumulative work of both parties but landed on his desk in direct response to his State of the Union address in 2007, where he called for incentives to drive down gas consumption by 2017 within ten years. He explicitly linked gas mileage and electric cars with national security--something the EV makers themselves should be doing almost as often as they promise to green up the planet.

Electric cars are real cars

With an investment of $7.5 billion, Bush and Congress underwrote $25 billion in loans that's translated directly into the Leaf, the Volt, Ford's electric Focus, the Think City, and Tesla and Fisker's leap from paper to plant. Now, almost five years later, we have mass-market electric cars. It's anathema for some progressives to give Bush credit for anything--just as it's anathema for more strident conservatives to see any good coming from any social engineering. They didn't like his prescription-drug coverage, either.

It's worth pointing out those electric-car incentives are distinct from the GM and Chrysler bailout loans, which upended the usual bankruptcy process in the hopes of stabilizing the industry as a whole--a move still as divisive today as it was in 2008.

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