A View From The Handbasket

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
"Just solve the problem."
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:38 PM

They can't say they didn't know it was coming. They've seen the same numbers anyone paying attention as seen, heard the same warnings anyone plugged into the media has heard. It's not ignorance but denial that brought Congress to where it is now, facing a nation full of SUV-driving, long-commuting, soccer practice taxiing, 4000 sq. ft gas-heated homeowning citizens screaming bloody murder over $3 a gallon gas. And Congress, bless 'em, has no idea what to do.

The response so far has been profiles in panic. Some conservatives dropped their philosophical opposition to tax hikes and business regulations and began complaining loudly about oil companies and the auto industry.

President Bush last week announced that he wanted the authority to raise fuel economy standards on automobiles. One aide acknowledged the idea was devised on the fly, with almost no planning or discussion among relevant agencies. This became obvious within hours when White House officials cautioned that Bush had no immediate plan to use the authority even if he had it.

A few days earlier, Bush backed diverting crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an idea he dismissed less than two years earlier as a political stunt.

Republican lawmakers likewise have responded with a mishmash of solutions -- some barely vetted, others with little chance of becoming law.

Now that the "hope I'm out of office before it hits the fan" plan isn't panning out, the frantic search for Plan B has begun. The extent to which Congress and Bush are clearly unequipped for this issue is so evident that even Rush Limbaugh had no patience for Bill Frist's proposal to dole out $100 checks to all taxpayers to fill up the Suburban just one more time:

"What kind of insult is this?" Rush Limbaugh asked on his radio program on Friday. "Instead of buying us off and treating us like we're a bunch of whores, just solve the problem."

Just solve the problem.

Unless the government has a secret lab in North Dakota that is nearing a breakthrough discovery in the field of transmuting old AOL CDs into petroleum, I'm curious what exactly Rush is proposing the government do.

There's no quick fix here, clearly. Demand for oil has just about exceeded supply, if it hasn't already. Demand is highly unlikely to decrease on a global scale (as China and India's explosive growth continues), and supply is highly unlikely to substantially increase. Any increase in supply will be from oil that is hard to recover (in other words, oil that will be expensive). And even that will probably not match the increase in demand.

Cheap oil is over. It's well past time that the government level with the country on this. Reducing the price of gas is, in many ways, the absolute worst thing that we can do right now. It reinforces the message that the current prices are somehow artificial, like the embargo-spiked prices of the 1970s, and that prices will somehow return to $1 a gallon and stay there forever.

As long as that mindset persists -- "just solve the problem" -- the problem will become worse. We're all strapped in to the national SUV and hurtling toward the side of a building at 90 mph. It's too late to stop in time. We are going to hit the wall no matter what we do. But, the sooner we slam on the brakes, the sooner we treat oil conservation as a national priority, the sooner we start a Manhattan-project-class effort to develop renewable energy, the slower we'll be going when we hit the wall, and the better the chances we can walk away from the wreckage.

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