Few believe that scenario will play out so successfully this time, not least because Congress has refused to open likely new domestic areas for exploration, including the Alaskan North Slope. The truth could be, prices never will make life on the highway as much fun as it used to be, supposedly. The New York Times reports that American car buyers are starting to shun full-size pickups and the like as they snap up smaller, more fuel-efficient models. It's just the sort of thing that happens when government leaves the marketplace more or less alone so that buyers and sellers alike might adjust to changed realities, such as scarcer supplies and higher prices.
A gasoline tax recess wouldn't change much -- as Obama correctly points out (for once assuming a position nearer that of the Wall Street Journal than of the Daily Kos!). How likely is it, even so, that genuinely decisive federal programs -- such as a windfall profits tax or a breathless chase after vaguely imagined "new" sources of energy -- would change opportunities and behaviors?
Perhaps we'll leave that part up to President Obama, if he makes it that far. It's a free country: He can pound the lectern all he wants on behalf of ritzy new programs overseen by government employees lacking any overriding interest in success.
The truth is, the marketplace is going to figure out this thing the way it always does, allocating ideas and resources to those places they can do the most good. We don't know what those places are, or what we'll feel up to, financially and spiritually, when we reach them. That's the source of the present problem -- that and the pain of $80 fill-ups. The presidential candidates feel that pain exquisitely. They need tinier doctor's bags, that's all.