Muy Loco Parentis

Why do so many politicians, particularly when they are running for office, feel compelled to treat the electorate like children? Why, when they open their mouths to expound on matters of policy, do they offer us pablum when our guts ache for more substantive fare? Why do they seek to divert our attention from this ache by waggling some glossy controversy or straw man before our unfocused eyes? And why do they believe that our favor or compliance can be had for a cookie or some such empty-caloried treat?

Perhaps there was some confusion. Perhaps, in so zealously pursuing or assuming a role that entails considerable responsibility for the electorate’s safety and well-being, the politicos got carried away and became disoriented. Perhaps their vision blurred and they mistook the crowd at the rally or the reporters at the press conference for their own children. (In a dimly lit room, one might mistake Katie Couric for Chelsea Clinton.)

In fairness, governing and parenting do share certain characteristics. And there is legal precedent for public servants to take on a parental role, of sorts. It’s called in loco parentis (Latin for “in the place of a parent”), and it is most typically applied to school personnel, who bear a certain responsibility for the students in their care. Of course, those who attend school—at least, on the primary and secondary level—are children, so treating them accordingly seems quite reasonable. What excuse do the politicians have?

This past week, as has been widely reported, Mama and Papa Politico (pictured here) offered the oil-glutted citizens of America a petroleum cookie, a temporary suspension of the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax. The fact that “dropping the tax would cost the government around $9 billion, possibly add to the already obscene profits of the oil companies and do little or nothing to actually lower the price of fuel” apparently was less consequential to McCain and Clinton than the prospect of garnering a few votes. Oh, well. They do come across as benevolent parent—and way cooler than that Obama fellow, who thinks such policy is really crazy (muy loco).

It is crazy. Not to mention, foolish and irresponsible. If the politicians insist on treating us like children, then they should at least have the decency and integrity to act like responsible parents. Yeah, a summer vacation from the federal gas tax might be what we want right now (or what we think we want). But it is not what we need and will do little to promote our long-term health and growth. It is muy loco parentis.

Anyway, here’s what Thomas Friedman of the New York Times had to say on the matter earlier this week:

Dumb as We Wanna Be

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

No, no, no, we’ll just get the money by taxing Big Oil, says Mrs. Clinton. Even if you could do that, what a terrible way to spend precious tax dollars — burning it up on the way to the beach rather than on innovation?

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.�

Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

Are you sitting down?

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies. [full text]

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2 thoughts on “Muy Loco Parentis

  1. excellent post. while bush throws us a few dollars of funny money, clinton and mccain will toss us some change to make us happy. how much will the oil companies raise the price of gas if the tax is removed? about $.18 would you say?
    personally, i use my car for work and i wouldn’t save enough in a week for an extra cup of coffee.

  2. Excellent commentary, although i agree and I disagree (hmmm, is that political–I voted “yes” before I voted “no”). I do believe that although it is true that the level of political debate is really “mush” and those in the political life have little real respect for the “great unwashed,” voters, the cause really relects the lack of intellectual awareness of the politicians. My experience has been that much too many of those in the political life, are less than aware or intellectually curious about anything other than the superficial or what the polls indicate voters want to hear or what will get them elected. Next on the political wish list are donors, people or interests that will give them money, lots of money, so they can hire consultants who will tell them what to say to win, and what to say that will get them more money. And on and on it goes. If one were really jaded, one might even say with the right media campaign, and the right amount of money, a potted plant could be elected to office–perhaps that has already occurred. How would we know?

    The level of political debate in our Nation is dismal. But I suggest the fault is ours. We tolerate candidates and political parties that patronize us, promise us bread and circuses, and limit our ability to support change. Politicians do reflect the voters, and the image is not a pretty one.

    My disagreement (or diagreeable nature) enters the matter of energy issues. The causes of the current high fuel prices are several. Foremost is of course demand and limiting (not limited supply). Expanding oil (and other energy needs in expanding economic centers such as Brazil, India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc., offer competitive markets for energy resources. Limits on production by the oil cartels, not “oil companies” result in higher prices. It still costs the Saudis less than $2 a barrel to pump oil. It will not matter if all Americans decide to stop driving cars or trucks, flying planes, or taking cruises. Any imagined slack will be picked up by the expanding economies elsewhere. As long as production is limited and demand is high, prices will follow.

    American energy costs are the result of short-sighted and timid Congressional lack of action or will to develop domestic resources. For example, the only drilling off of Florida, where oil resources exist, is by the Chinese via permits issued by Fidel Castro and the Cubans. American companies are not allowed to drill in American waters. Another example: there is more oil in American and Canadian tar sands and oil shales than all the combined oil reserves of all the Middle East, but we are not permitted to develop these. Another example: the Bakken Formation of the American midcontinent, is one of the largest oil reserves in he world and virtually undeveloped. Again, American companies are not permitted to drill. Finally, there is oil off the West Coast, the East Coast, elesewhere in the Gulf, and the American Arctic, and American companies are not allowed to drill. America has sufficient petroleum reserves for perhaps 600 years at current usuage if these were developed, and not one cent would need to go to foreign governments.

    Energy hungry India and China open a new coal fired power plant every week–it takes 9 years to get a coal/electricity plant operational in the U.S. India, France, Norway, Sweden, Japan, China, Russia, and on and on, are putting nuclear plants on line. America is not. America has sufficient easy coal reserves for perhaps 500 years and with deeper coal, perhaps another 400 years–that’s almost 1000 years of energy supply. Coal is also a useful starter for other energy (methanol, natural gas), fertilizers, chemicals, plastics, etc. America has sufficient uranium reserves to power scores of nuclear plants that are clean, efficient, and produce cheap electricity for the next 5000 years or more without breeder reactors–with them, the enrgy potential is limitless. There is no reason other than political or uninformed, for high fuel prices, growing corn for fuel instead of food, or for sending American dollars to not so friendly places.

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