The Children's Hour has been extended at the White House. It is a time of make-believe in which the nation's leaders tell fairy tales. The latest story is a political favorite. It goes like this:
Once upon a time, there were cruel car companies in the United States. They were known as the Detroit Big Three.
The Big Three made big cars and trucks that used lots of gasoline. The people of the United States could not afford them. That did not matter. The Big Three controlled their minds with powerful magic dust, called advertising.
Whenever the people complained that their cars and trucks were too big and their gasoline prices too high, the Big Three polluted the air with magic dust. The people breathed it in; and they were quiet.
This went on until the nation's leaders decided to put a stop to it. The leaders consulted members of Congress and the environmental establishment to concoct a witch's brew, called CAFE, which stands for corporate average fuel economy. The car companies would be forced to drink CAFE and build the kinds of cars and trucks the virtuous, energy conscious people of America always wanted.
The new cars and trucks would save lots of fuel -- the equivalent of 10 billion barrels of gasoline, according to the latest proposed mixture of CAFE. The people would be happy, and all would be well with the world.
In addition, the noble leaders of America gave the people a bonus. Under CAFE, the people would not have to do anything. They would not have to pay higher taxes for the gasoline they loved so much. In fact, the leaders promised to "ease the pain" of the people at gasoline pumps across the land, which is Washington's way of saying that the people might one day return to gasoline prices of barely $1 a gallon for regular unleaded -- no matter that, even with prices now approaching $3 a gallon, they already were paying the cheapest prices for gasoline in the developed world.
This way, the people of the United States could have their gasoline and waste it, too; and that made them very, very happy.
The people like this story, even though some of them suspect it is a lie. Few of them ever question how they alone could be so blessed to pay $3 a gallon for gasoline, when people in Europe are paying the U.S. equivalent of $6 a gallon. Few of them pay attention to the laws of supply and demand in a world that now uses two barrels of oil for every one barrel it produces.
Rapidly growing demand for oil in China, India, Eastern Europe, Africa and South America does not concern them. They are Americans. They've grown up with an unshakable sense of entitlement -- cheap oil for everyone forever. They love their big cars and trucks and the superhighways that take them to big houses and big shopping centers in big suburbs.
Any politician or federal regulator who questions that belief is doomed to unemployment. As a result, no one dares tell the true believers that the fairy tale is just that, and nothing more.
Energy conservation is someone else's problem -- something for the car companies and the petroleum industry to work out without disturbing the psyches or the bank accounts of the people. The myth pleases everyone. Big, rich companies get to carry the bill, burden and blame for energy conservation. Elected leaders get to be reelected by not telling the people the truth, which is that everyone has to pay for the energy mess we've gotten ourselves into. The people are allowed to keep freedom of choice in the marketplace. With cheap gasoline, they don't have to buy the more fuel-efficient vehicles that CAFE demands. They can buy whatever they want and drive until the roads run out, which is not likely to happen anywhere or anytime soon.
Several weeks before the White House proposed its new CAFE rule, which would set fuel-economy targets based on vehicle size, weight and class, President Bush signed a $286 billion highway bill to build more roads and bridges, which will accommodate more cars and trucks driving more miles and using more gasoline, and which will lead to the construction of more suburbs with big shopping centers and big parking lots.
The American people have applauded this. They are content with the fantasy that the Almighty has chosen them, and only them, to have the cheapest gasoline in a world torn asunder by deadly resource wars.