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FORUM: Let them eat cake

It's a phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette, the excess-addicted wife of French King Louis XVI, after being told the poor didn't have enough bread to eat. While some scholars think someone else said it, there is no disputing that it highlights a disconnect found between the elite and the poor.

Marie was a victim of the guillotine in 1793 at the height of the French Revolution, and yet her lesson still seems unlearned today.

Congressional liberals, in addressing high energy prices, are essentially pointing Americans to the nearest bakery -- but asking them to walk there rather than drive.

People are finding the struggle to balance tight household budgets even harder with rising energy costs. In poll after poll, it's a top issue for Americans. President Bush, his administration and his supporters on Capitol Hill want increased oil exploration off our shores and in places such as Alaska.

The liberal elite remains rigidly opposed to this increased domestic oil production that would reduce our nation's dependence on imports. With control of the legislative schedule on Capitol Hill, it is scheduling no votes on bills that will fill our tanks.

To the contrary, these elitists lecture about conservation and alternative energy and engage in political posturing instead of something that might benefit the other side of the aisle and endanger their slim majority. Simply put, the American people must suffer to keep the status quo. Discontent, it seems, is part of their plan to hold onto power.

Since the 2006 elections, the liberal congressional leadership has led middle- and lower-class Americans kicking and screaming down a bumpy road of personal economic ruin. When Nancy Pelosi became House speaker and Harry Reid became Senate majority leader in January 2007, gas was $2.33 per gallon. At the end of July 2008, the average was more than $4 per gallon.

OPEC - the international cartel that includes Iran and Venezuela - literally has us over a barrel. Environmentalists want to further restrict our access to any energy that doesn't meet their politically correct notions. Yet the most this do-nothing Congress accomplishes is fruitless investigations, disingenuous gas “price-gouging” legislation and a windfall-profit-tax gimmick that, if adopted, would be passed on to consumers.

All this talk of conservation has not curtailed the elites' own indulgences. Al Gore's house in Tennessee uses 20 times more energy than the average American's. At a speech in Washington in July about the need to conserve energy and break our reliance on oil, his motorcade of two Lincoln Town Cars and a Chevy Suburban SUV sat outside - one of the cars idling with the air conditioning running.

Taxpayers spend over a million dollars a year leasing vehicles for 127 members of Congress. Half of these vehicles are SUVs, and there are twice as many leased Lincoln Town Cars than hybrid Toyota Priuses. Members using their own cars are reimbursed 50.5 cents a mile. Mrs. Pelosi has access to an Air Force 757, so she, her staff, family and friends can fly to her California district nonstop.

Many of these lawmakers like to lecture about how the rest of America must carpool, take mass transit and find other ways to deal with the high price of gas. There may be a day when we all have electric cars, but the one I have right now doesn't have a plug, solar panel or hydrogen converter. It takes gasoline. While I don't object to the possibility of alternative energy sources in the future, I know that most Americans own cars that need gas and live in homes that are powered at least in part by coal.

When the elites stifle access to plentiful power, the financial burden is a lot smaller for them. They can afford to pay more for a hybrid car and rave about getting better gas mileage. They can also feel better about their indulgences when the buy imaginary “carbon credits” that give them the moral authority to use more energy than they want to allow the masses.

Like Marie Antoinette, they think the rest of America can “eat cake” like they can. Sadly, we can't.

Kevin L. Martin is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network.

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