Wednesday, June 02, 2004


A $2 gallon of gas is just the beginning.

You can't squeeze a whole lot of policy detail into a 30-second ad or an evening-news sound bite. But after sifting through the rhetorical chaff on gas prices, the parameters of the current national debate on energy policy become clear.

For the Bush campaign, gas taxes are out of the question. There will be no discussion of, say, the wide-ranging benefits that Europeans have derived from their $5 per gallon, or the fact that we pay a gas tax to the Saudis rather than our own public coffers. Gas taxes are simply "wacky." You'd have to be even more "wacky" to talk about people driving less.

The message coming from the Democrats is equally demagogic. Though the Kerry campaign has issued policy papers focused on reducing American dependence on foreign oil (buried deep within the Kerry web site), in public he has tended to steer clear of discussing these ideas. Rather, he uses his airtime to criticize the president.

While crowds love Kerry's line about Bush and Cheney riding to work together, there is something disappointing about the Democratic nominee ridiculing the idea of carpooling. In addition to reducing traffic, car-sharing happens to be one of the fastest, cheapest, most high-impact ways that Americans can make real reductions in daily oil consumption. Car-sharing should be part of the Democratic platform, not a laugh line.

Kerry and the Democrats' other gasoline talking points are equally ill-advised. Telling the president to do a better job of "jaw-boning" the Saudis does not address the need to make America less beholden to foreign energy suppliers. Nor does the call to release oil from the Strategic Reserve.

The strategy for both campaigns so far has been pretty simple: Gas prices are rising rapidly. Blame it on the other guy. Present yourself as the guy who will make gas cheaper.


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