For the record: stupidest moment in policy ever?

Usually I see no reason to chime in on an issue that many other people have discussed. But, perhaps because I've just come back to China, I feel obliged to register a view for the record about destructive nuttiness in my homeland:

The pandering and ignorance-across-party-lines represented by the John McCain-Hillary Clinton united front for a temporary reduction in the gasoline tax should make Americans hold their heads in their hands and moan. No one who has thought about this issue thinks that it will actually reduce prices or -- more important -- help the the people disproportionately hurt by $100+/barrel oil and $4 gasoline. And to the extent it has any effect on America's long-term approach to energy policy, transportation, oil dependence, and climate change, the effect will be perverse.

I can imagine that John McCain, who boasts about his sketchy command of economics, might consider this a good idea. But the master of policy, Hillary Clinton??

Please. This is embarrassing. It makes me long for the good old days of debating about flag pins on the lapel. And I wonder: has there been bipartisan agreement to stupider effect in, say, the last fifty years? The US Senate's 88-2 vote in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 doesn't count: they didn't know what lay ahead. Hillary Clinton, at least, knows why what she is saying is wrong. I will pay for a year's subscription to the Atlantic for anyone who can come up with a more foolishly destructive bipartisan example.

Update: The 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force vote that paved the way for war in Iraq doesn't count either. That vote reflected terrible judgment, in my view, but not outright stupidity or, as with the current gas-tax charade, certain foreknowledge that the policy being recommended would do no good.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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