Today's New York Times has a front-pager that could have been run dozens of times over the past few years: "Democrats Eager to Exploit Anger Over Gas Price." In fact, during the last presidential race, I wrote a column outlining why the Dems' attempts to use high gas prices as an election year rallying cry were completely understandable--as well as shameless, dishonest, and ultimately doomed to failure.
With the public growing ever more hostile toward the party in power, it's entirely possible that pump prices will prove a more successful weapon for Dems this time around. But that doesn't make their exploitation of the issue any more honest or less shameless. I mean, does anyone really believe Dems would have done a better job of tackling our long-term energy crisis--much less short-term gas prices--than the Bushies have? And I say this in the context of the Bushies having tackled bupkiss. I like to kick around the administration as much as anyone, but on the issue of energy, neither party seems able to free itself from some ugly combination of knee-jerk ideology and special-interest money long enough to get serious about hashing out a workable compromise.
Take the excruciatingly annoying issue of ANWR: Some days it seems that any piece of legislation having anything to do with energy or the environment comes to a screeching halt at the feet of almighty ANWR. Enough already. The Dems should stop fetishizing this remote piece of wilderness, and the Republicans should stop pretending that drilling there will make any real dent in our dependence on foreign oil. At this point, Dems should use the oversized ANWR bargaining chip to extract some massive compromise from Republicans on an issue that would have an even bigger environmental impact, such as raising fuel-economy standards or (gasp!) establishing a federal gas tax--an idea that even conservatives like Charles Krauthammer have touted. Alas, since ANWR is what drives environmental activists to distraction, we can expect Dems to keep babbling about the caribou until we all choke to death on a cloud of SUV exhaust.
Admittedly, I'm slow to get worked up about most environmental crusades. It's not that I'm unsympathetic or consider them unimportant; I just tend to obsess about other issues. But one of those issues is our national security--which is increasingly tied to our energy needs. For a primer on how the parties let the politics of energy trump both environmental and security concerns, check out this 2002 piece by Gregg Easterbrook. What may be most disturbing about the piece is how little has changed in the four years since it ran.
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