Failure to defend an inalienable right
Failure to defend an inalienable right
Being a pal of Big Oil can spell big trouble for George Bush this summer
(Apr 29, 2006)
You know something is afoot when Ted Kennedy and Bill O'Reilly start
singing together. The senior senator from Massachusetts and the
pundit-in-chief of Fox News can usually be relied upon to produce
nothing but discord.
But when it comes to rising prices for gas, they are in perfect
harmony. Americans are being ripped off at the pump! "Greed-heads" are
manipulating the market and gouging the little guy! Something must be
Such sweet agreement spells big trouble for George Bush. There is
lively debate in America as to whether the "penumbras" and
"emanations" of the Constitution include the right to abortion. But,
as Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute points out,
there is no debate as to whether these penumbras and emanations
include the right to cheap gasoline.
Americans are convinced that the rising price of gas -- the average
price of a gallon has reached $2.90 and some places are charging more
than $3 -- is nothing less than a violation of the rights they won
from King George III; and they have no doubt that the people doing the
violating are the oil companies.
Aren't the oil companies making record profits? And didn't the
chairman of Exxon, Lee Raymond, just get parting "compensation" worth
about $400 million? "Does everybody love Raymond?" asks O'Reilly. "I
don't. I think he's a greed-head."
You can quibble for all you want about the economics of all this. You
can point out that the price of gasoline is fixed by global forces --
from rising demand in India and China to political instability in
Nigeria and, particularly, Iran -- rather than devilish CEOs.
You can point out that, so far, rising gas prices have had remarkably
little impact on the economy. The oil shocks of the 1970s sent
inflation soaring and tipped the world economy into recession. Today
the American economy is motoring along on a full tank, with low
inflation, low unemployment and rising consumer confidence.
You can point out that Americans don't know how lucky they are -- a
gallon of gas costs $6.40 in Britain. You can even argue that it is
their fault for driving gas-guzzling SUVs and living in McMansions
miles from anywhere.
But you might as well hold your breath for all the difference it
makes. No less than 69 per cent of Americans think that the rise in
gas prices has already caused them either severe (23 per cent) or
moderate (46 per cent) hardship.
Nearly two-thirds think that the president has a lot of influence over
the price of gas. The result is that a presidency that has already
been battered by Hurricane Katrina and bruised by the Iraq war is
being bombarded by soaring gasoline prices.
Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 32 per cent;
economists warn that the price of gas will rise more as the summer
driving season starts; and pundits suggest Bush may be a Republican
Jimmy Carter, destroyed by Middle Eastern terrorists and rising oil
prices. All he needs is a cardigan and a liking for the word "malaise."
The Democrats are bashing Big Oil with predictable relish. Herb Kohl,
a senator from Wisconsin, has introduced a bill to prevent petroleum
firms from colluding to keep prices high. Big Oil has unquestionably
enriched itself, he says.
Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, has urged Bush to impose a
windfall tax on the oil companies' "obscene profits." On April 20 the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommended that
candidates for office hold campaign meetings at gas stations -- and
pledge that as members of Congress they will "fight for families...not
the oil and gas executives."
And those stalwart friends of big business, the Republicans?
Naturally, they have fired a few shots at the Democrats. How can the
Democrats have the nerve to complain about rising gas prices when they
have systematically blocked attempts to increase the production of
oil? And when they want to bring in "green" taxes that will push the
price of gas much higher?But for the most part they are content with
me-too company bashing.
The best that can be said for Bush is that he has avoided making
obvious mistakes. He was much faster off the mark than he was over
Katrina, giving several speeches on high gas prices.
He produced a four-point "practical plan," which at least gives the
impression of activity. He sounded the right populist notes about
fighting fraud and manipulation and depriving oil companies of some of
their tax breaks.
But his speech was essentially bluster and hot air. What he offered
was a combination of empty gestures (calling a temporary halt to
feeding the strategic petroleum reserve, when deposits to the reserve
are less than 30,000 barrels a day in a country that consumes 21
million barrels a day) and sensible ideas that will take decades to work.
Most of Bush's disasters are largely his own creation: Iraq because he
chose to invade the country, Katrina because he ignored the warnings
and was lamentably slow to respond afterwards.
But gasoline prices are different. Bush can't rig the international
oil markets. He can't pretend that his administration is not top-heavy
with oil men. He can't change the subject as the summer driving season
The Bush family has reaped more than its fair share of benefits from
Big Oil over the years. This summer, it is proving a dangerous friend