GOV. EDMUND G. BROWN JR. of California got in line early yesterday at the great national filling station at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. How much gasoline did he get? He's not quite sure. President Carter promised to give the state a little more flexibility in its distribution rules, and he also promised to make sure that nobody was stealing California's share. The national allocation formula now takes account of growth, he said, and things ought to improve a bit.
A patient and generous man, Gov. Brown said that he was suspending judgment for the present on Mr. Carter's performance. The president is entitled to a couple of weeks to come up with a more tangible expression of his concern for the California commuters, the governor said. Ditto the governor's position on whether the Secretary of Energy, James R. Schlesinger, should be removed from office. But the message from California is clear: More gas, or everybody gets fired.
But hold on a minute. If California gets more gas, doesn't it mean that other people, in other places, will get less? The Californians argue that social justice demands more for them, since their need is greater. But that view is not widely accepted in other parts of the country. An informal system of gas rationing is now in effect at the wholesale level of the business. If President Carter, in his attempts to placate the West Coast, now gives the public an impression that he is tampering with that system to give one state a little more, he risks the just wrath of all the others.
Gov. Brown urges that the oil companies buy more oil and gasoline on the speculative markets of Europe. In fact, the Department of Energy has already quietly begun suggesting to the American oil companies that they do precisely that. The idea is to bid it away from people who don't vote in American elections. But American consumers might note that the retail price of the European gas would be about $1.25 a gallon at today's levels and, since it is a small market, the pressure of heavy American buying would rapidly send it much higher.
But Gov. Brown doesn't seem to be thinking in terms of prices. Gravely he told the television cameras that many people in his state believe that their present distress at the filling stations is the result of a political plot by the White House to destroy the Brown campaign for the presidency. A classic accusation that-and quite perfect: indefensible but also unanswerable. If the allocations now get tilted in California's favor, maybe people around here will need to get started at once on the grass-roots campaigns: Marion Barry for President; Harry Hyghes for President; (even) John Dalton for President.