- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

About 10 years ago, former Sen. Bob Dole, frustrated with his inability to gain political traction against Bill Clinton’s bid to win a second term in the White House, used to lament, “Where’s the outrage in America?” Mr. Dole was fed up with the media letting the former president and his vice president, Al Gore, get away with verbal truth feints like “I didn’t inhale,” and calling fund-raising in a Buddhist temple an “outreach” exercise.

Last week, Americans found the outrage button, reacting angrily to sharp increases in gasoline prices. Polls suggest citizens fingered major oil companies as the culprit for the price spikes. People watched helplessly as soaring gasoline prices added the equivalent of a new energy tax on millions of drivers.

Yet the source of the outrage is misdirected. True, news that the former ExxonMobil CEO received a $400 million retirement package, while gasoline prices increased by nearly 50 percent since February 2005, was about as helpful as a fine Chardonnay at the local AA meeting. Yet “Big Oil,” however tone-deaf, should not be the target of American outrage. Instead, Americans should focus in on the cozy complicity between Democrats in Congress and liberal special-interest groups.

For years Democrats conspired with environmental special-interest groups in Washington to block a host of even modest proposals, ranging from expanded domestic drilling, to increased use of nuclear power, to common-sense rules allowing more adequate refining capacity — all factors that would increase supply and reduce prices. Now Democrats have the audacity to stand in front of gas stations and say prices are too high. That should move the outrage needle.

Gas prices are soaring today as a consequence of collusion — not among oil companies but between Democrats in Washington and their special-interest cohorts — creating an axis of obstruction. Ideas have consequences. And American consumers are now paying the price for a liberal agenda.

Around the same time Mr. Dole was seeking the whereabouts of America’s collective outrage, Mr. Clinton vetoed a bill authorizing drilling in ANWR that would have boosted domestic production. He said it would take 10 years to realize the benefits. Time flies and here we are a decade later without these increased domestic supplies.

Environmental extremists and the Democrats have conspired to shut down the growth of new refinery capacity in the United States as well. Without these new supplies, we’re forced to import more gasoline and other refined products. Last year, when the House passed a comprehensive energy policy bill, 196 House Democrats sided with liberal special-interest groups to oppose legislation that would have streamlined more refinery construction in the United States and increased the supply of domestically produced products.

This same axis of obstruction also opposed legislation to expand the use of nuclear energy, further reducing the demand (and price) for other petroleum-based products. Taken together, these and other decisions slashed the supply of new domestic petroleum sources without offering other offsetting products — actions that forced old-fashioned economics to produce new-fashioned price spikes today.

One savvy political strategist told me last week that when it comes to gas prices he’d never seen a bigger gap between what could be done about a problem in the short run and what the public thinks can be done. Americans believe gas prices are the responsibility of greedy oil companies — period. This seems like another example of what public-opinion expert Andrew Kohut points to as a public “short on facts, but long on judgment.”

But there’s another big gap — this one in voter knowledge about the impact of Democratic coziness with environmentalists. Exposing this breach must be part of any response by the White House and Republicans in Congress to the current energy crisis. House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio began to close the gap this week when he said, “Nancy Pelosi and her Capitol Hill Democrats can’t hide from their chronic negligence of addressing America’s energy needs. By constantly opposing responsible policies that would have increased American energy supplies and lowered gasoline prices, one has to wonder what it takes to get Democrats engaged in this critical issue. ‘No’ is not an energy policy.”

Yes, Mr. Dole, we have found an outrage. Republicans need to make Americans aware of the consequences of this liberal, special-interest compact. Failing to steer the frustration over pain at the pump to its proper source might mean pain at the polls for Republicans this November.

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