The Washington Post

The GOP, gas prices and the values game

One more round on gas prices. Ed says there are lots of things the president could do to affect gas prices, but, like many, he doesn’t enumerate them beyond more drilling, which the president has approved, and Keystone, which balanced observers think would have a negligible impact on gas prices when it comes on line in several years.

The Republicans’ reaction to this issue is rooted in the success of Lee Atwater. Take an issue and don’t just view it narrowly, but elevate it to a values question. In this school, which Ed (don’t tell anybody lest it taint him as an elitist) not only attended but was Phi Beta Kappa, President Obama’s supposed indifference and diffidence on gas prices illustrates a deeper flaw in his worldview. Poor ol’ Barry not only wants to take away our guns and religion, he also wants to replace our pickups with bikes. Because, in truth, the liberal Harvard-Chicago law professor looks down on the way most people live.

This framing has often worked for Republicans; maybe it will again. Of course, the Democrats have learned to play the game as well. Under their scenario, Republicans are in the tank for big oil companies whose record profits will grow even larger with Keystone and drilling in polar bear land. Republicans oppose any effort to repeal oil subsidies, of course, and are eager to reappoint industry lobbyists to their rightful positions of oversight.

Meanwhile, gas prices ebb and flow, but always higher. And why? Because the market Republicans love is working so well. The market knows Keystone means nothing to price; that’s why it didn’t budge when Obama announced his Keystone punt. The market knows we are in peak oil, meaning China and India’s emerging demand will outstrip additional supply. And it knows we are always one airstrike or coup away from upsetting a very jittery world petroleum market.

So what’s a country to do? Well, it might make sense to prepare for the future by increasing mileage standards. And, like the Chinese, launch a national effort to research and develop oil alternatives. Oh, but that’s part of Obama’s plan. Never mind.


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