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 schoolâ€”at least, on the primary and secondary levelâ€”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 parentâ€”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:
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 summerâ€™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, weâ€™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 â€” 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: â€œMaximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.â€?
Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.
But hereâ€™s whatâ€™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 â€” gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars â€” and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage â€” 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]