I'd planned on ignoring the inferno of idiocy raging in the nation's capital over gas prices, but it's looking like an eternal flame.
First came the Democrats. For more than a decade their leading lights have extolled higher gas taxes, and hence higher gas prices, to pay for everything from school roofs to the development of alternative energy sources that would usher in the economic Shangri-La of "energy independence" - whatever that is. "Look how enlightened Europe is! Gas prices there are two or three times ours," they'd holler. In 1993, when the Democrats controlled Congress and the White House and the economy was believed to be in much worse shape, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the rest of the Democratic leadership pushed gas taxes as the solution to our woes. Now even Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) - who voted for gas tax hikes in 1982, 1990 and 1993 - believes that "high gas prices are going to be the final nail in the GOP's coffin this election year." So the Democrats want to repeal federal gas taxes in order to bring the price down at the pump. They say the repeal would only be temporary. No kidding!
Instead of forming a bucket brigade to put out this bonfire of buffoonery - as is their historical obligation and divine writ - Republican leaders threw their own rhetorical gasoline. The GOP leadership called for the 12th investigation since 1979 into allegations of "price fixing" and "collusion" by American oil companies. These investigations have all concluded much the same thing: Market forces determine the price, not some cabal of tuxedo-wearing fat cats.
At a time when (a) the second-largest oil producer in the world - Iran - is engulfed in nuclear messianic nationalism; (b) Iraq is, shall we say, a somewhat unstable oil producer; (c) we have few oil refineries, and many of them are undergoing maintenance that was postponed because of Hurricane Katrina; and (d) China's economy grew at an oil-sucking 10 percent in the first quarter while our own grew at an astounding 4.8 percent, the brain trust in Washington is stunned, stunned, that gas prices are going up. It must be a conspiracy!
No doubt we can soon expect a major investigation into the disturbing reports that bears are using our woodlands as a toilet.
All of this brings to mind T.S. Eliot's observation that no causes are truly lost because no causes are ever truly won. Although poverty is the natural human condition whose only proven remedy is the market, whenever enough voters get mad at the market, politicians can be counted on to play up popular paranoia about powerful "unseen forces" exploiting ordinary folk.
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