Listening to President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry snipe at each other last week about the high price of gasoline, it's hard to know where the greater hypocrisy lies. The Bush campaign deserves ridicule for its latest advertisement, which begins, "Some people have wacky ideas ... Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry." In fact, the ad refers to a speech Mr. Kerry, D-Mass., made 10 years ago, advocating a gasoline tax increase of 50 cents a gallon. But the senator never voted for it. More important, the idea of adding to the gas tax isn't so wacky, nor so foreign, to the Bush team. Five years ago N. Gregory Mankiw, now chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, proposed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase (and a 10 percent income tax cut) in a magazine column. Mr. Mankiw argued that "gasoline taxes ... actually improve incentives in various ways" -- surely a wacky idea, by Bush campaign standards.
Not that the Kerry campaign is willing to defend such sensible "wackiness." On the contrary, rather than responding directly to the "charge" of having proposed a gas tax increase 10 years ago, when it might have made sense, Mr. Kerry has gone on a dubious offensive. Speaking in San Diego, which (partly thanks to heavy California environmental regulations) has the highest gas prices in the country, Mr. Kerry blamed the president and said a Kerry administration would "act immediately to exert pressure on OPEC to abandon its cut in output quotas and instead increase oil supplies." It's hard to think what methods of persuasion a Kerry administration would have that a Bush administration doesn't. It's also hard to think of a more ineffectual means, in the long term, of bringing down gas prices than the senator's other suggestion: that the administration stop filling the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This, in fact, is precisely what the Clinton administration did in its waning months, to no discernible effect.
The truth is that gasoline prices when adjusted for inflation aren't all that high by historical standards. That they are rising has something to do with supply and demand, and both Democrats and Republicans bear some responsibility for the latter part of that equation: for policies that have discouraged conservation and encouraged large cars and long commutes. Politicians haven't faced up to these underlying issues. It would mark a welcome change if one of the presidential candidates reversed the trend. -- Washington Post
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.