Why High Gas Prices Are So Bad For the GOP
by Scott Shields, Mon May 01, 2006 at 11:00:37 PM EDT
Lately, I've been struggling to collect my thoughts on high fuel costs. The most obvious thought, the one that crosses my mind every time I spend upwards of $40 to fill up the tank of my relatively fuel-efficient Honda Accord, is that high gas prices suck. It's a defacto pay cut. But there are other thoughts. One of them, not uncommon among progressives, is that perhaps such high gas prices are a good thing, finally providing the catalyst for change that we've so long needed to get people thinking about greater fuel efficiency standards and maybe even alternative energy sources.
No matter how you read the current situation, it's definitely not good for the Republicans, regardless of whether or not the Democrats have all of the answers. In fact, there may not be any "answers" in this case. Gas prices seem poised to stay high for some time to come. While there is certainly room for temporary fixes -- increased federal incentives for fuel efficient vehicles, a temporary gas tax holiday, an increased commitment to providing alternatives to single occupancy vehicle traffic, etc. -- the fact of the matter is that, unless we start talking seriously about alternative fuels and massive shifts in energy and transportation policy, these are well-intentioned band-aids. Mind you, I think it's important to stem the middle-class bleeding on fuel costs in the short term, but there's a big difference between long-term solutions and short-term fixes.
Something I read tonight really helped me start putting things in perspective. Even though Democrats may not have all of the answers, it truly is important to strenuously point out that at the heart of the problem sits the Republican Party and the Presidency of George W. Bush. David Roberts of the Gristmill blog makes the case that Bush's "most grievous blow to this country" has been "his utter failure to prepare the U.S. for the 21st century energy situation."
The best thing Bush could have done the minute he came into office is focus like a laser on reducing demand: tax carbon, tax gas, raise fuel-efficiency standards, plough money into any and every alternative fuel. Reduced demand would help hold prices down in the short term and help the country prepare for the day when they inevitably rise. Fucking around with supply -- drilling in ANWR, off the coasts, in the West, and everywhere the hell else, fiddling with refinery permits, removing environmental standards on gas -- is at best a delaying tactic.
He's catching on, but only nominally, too little too late. A couple of shocks -- another war, another terrorist attack, a natural disaster that knocks out a significant supplier -- and we could teeter into geopolitical chaos. We no longer have the moral, economic, or military muscle to keep a lid on it.
The Republicans' solutions have continued to focus on the supply-side, promoting more drilling in sensitive areas and overturning environmental standards. This is incredibly stupid both in terms of policy and politics, continuing to reinforce that they are simply not equipped to deal with the realities of $3-plus per gallon fuel. Everyone seems to know that high gas prices are bad for the GOP, but not enough people seem to be talking about the real reasons why. It's not just about gas taking a bigger bite of people's paychecks, though that's certainly important. It's not even just about the fact that the crisis at hand has been exacerbated by the ruling Republican Party, if not worse. George W. Bush and the Republican Party, despite mounting evidence that this situation was on the horizon, were simply too weak to do anything to prepare the American people for it. This is why is high gas prices are so terrible for the Republicans. It's not just something happening on their watch -- it's a direct by-product of their utter failure to lead.