WASHINGTON -- In 1966, the price of eggs rose to a level that President Lyndon Johnson judged, God knows how, was too high. There were two culprits -- supply and demand -- and Johnson's agriculture secretary told him there was not much that could be done. LBJ, however, was a can-do fellow who directed the U.S. surgeon general to dampen demand by warning the nation about the hazards of cholesterol in eggs.
Johnson, the last president with a direct political connection to Franklin Roosevelt, was picked by FDR in 1935 to be Texas director of the New Deal's National Youth Administration. Two years later, Johnson came to Congress, a rung on the ladder that led to glory as Egg Czar. Today, with Washington experiencing a Roosevelt revival, Johnson's spirit, too, goes marching on as the federal government permeates the economy with politics.
Or not. In an interview with Business Week, Rep. Barney Frank, the effervescent Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Financial Services Committee, was asked, concerning the auto industry, "How do you make sure the government doesn't meddle too deeply in day-to-day operations and bring politics -- like a push for green cars -- into the equation?" Frank replied: "Oh, well, a push for green cars is very much a part of what we're involved in. We don't think that's politics." So, when the government, its 10 thumbs stuck deep in the economy, uses its power to compel an industry to pursue the objectives of the political party that controls both of the government's political branches, that is not politics.
Business Week: "Should GM acquire Chrysler?" Frank: "I'm not competent to say." Frank's humility is selective: He obviously thinks he is competent to say what kind of cars should be made.
Business Week: "Does Congress realize how few hybrids have been sold, as it pushes Detroit to make them, and will Congress give consumers greater incentives to buy these cars?" Frank: Those who are "blaming the auto companies forget to blame somebody else -- the consumers. In the recorded history of America, no one was ever forced at gunpoint to buy a Hummer. But we do believe that the combination of genuine concern about global warming and energy efficiency means people are now ready to buy these cars." Consumers are such a disappointment to Congress. But what Congress really believes is that people are not ready to buy those cars at a price that reflects the costs of making them. Why else has it voted tax subsidies for buyers?
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