What Jonathan Alter said about the gas tax. Beyond that, though, it's worth saying that real harm is done to people's lives by this sort of gimmickry. It's not at all clear to me that ordinary voters understand that the underlying supply and demand trends make it overwhelmingly likely that the cost of gasoline will continue, on the whole, to move upwards in the future. But that's the reality -- the market will fluctuate and it's possible that policy choices about the SPR can influence those fluctuations, but we're not finding new sources of cheap oil at the same rate that global economic growth is making people want to burn more oil.
Both as a country, and as individuals, we need to plan accordingly. Not everyone will agree with my preferred policy prescriptions, which tend toward denser land use and more transit, but we need some long-term policy response. And people need to respond in their own lives when they make decisions about which car to buy and where to live. But when national leaders act as if they believe current fuel costs are a passing phenomenon to be weathered with short-term measures, then at least some voters are going to believe them and make bad personal and political decisions that we can ill afford. A lot of electoral gambits are nonsense without being actually harmful, but McCain and Clinton are making problems worse just with their rhetoric.
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