- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

Why is it that election campaigns bring out an irresistible urge in politicians to show what muttonheaded simpletons the voters are? I have devoted a lot of thought and reporting time to that question, so pay attention. It is because politicians are convinced that voters are indeed champion, 10-second-spot stupids.

So when irritating problems come up around election time, the wise politician gives the voters anwers simple enough not to annoy them. Since each contestant for office believes he must never give the same answer as his opponent, right or wrong, the range of stupidly simple answers is soon covered.

Then politicians do not have to worry about displaying the dangerous leadership of explaining how complicated and costly an effective answer would be.

The pump price of gasoline has occupied the country more the past few weeks than such boring things as Chinese sale of missiles to rogue powers has in all of the past decade. Price to us means cost in our own auto tanks. The price at a British pump would give us heart attacks, so grip your armchair: about $6 a gallon now and going up.

American politicians are understandably terrified they will have to annoy us muttonheads by forcing us to think about a real solution. One result is that we now have a museum-class collection of idiotically simplistic answers. President Clinton's contribution is truly superb. He said he sees no "economic explanation," which is a rough translation of "duh." Blame "Big Oil," says Vice President Al Gore; investigate. I will vote for the politician who says blame "Little Oil."

Al Gore, says George W. Bush. Blame him. He wrote a book. Investigate. The administration's gas-cleansing regulation, which gives us a decent dose of fresh air, is not popular anymore. We discovered it costs money; ours. Administration spokesmen say these regulations cost only a few pennies on the gallon; see their noses grow. Other government specialists, so honest it was downright stunning to listen to them, say, not for attribution of course, that "reconstruction" of gas costs 25 cents a gallon, probably more. Our brains say it is worth the money, to live longer, but our tempers say not in my tank it doesn't.

We are suspicious gouging is going on, says an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman. No. Outside the EPA, gouging is better known as profit-taking, making money, free enterprise or even capitalism, a word now banned in all publications except good old Forbes.

OPEC that's my personal favorite target. And, simplistic or not, I resent America being called on to save the necks of its graspy oil-sheikhs and the economy of its camp follower nations, like Mexico. Oh, I hope I am around the next time the arrogant Saudi princes whistle for help against Saddam Hussein, or when Mexico demands we again put up the billions to rescue foreign speculators. Poor fellows did not realize that investment in a staggering Third World country involves risk. They demanded and got their money back, from the United States.

The press. Reporters have a conflict of interest because some earn enough to own or lease cars. They keep saying the election is at stake, frightening Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, which is not nice. (Columnists make so much money that we have no monetary motives and can be trusted, whatever we say). Two, four six, eight who shall we decapitate? Richardson, Richardson, Richardson. Bill Richardson has so served so briefly as energy secretary that he has no responsibility in the rise. So his trial will not have to waste much time before finding him guilty, of something or other.

Now that politicians have given the public their one-cause simplistic blather, your servant reveals a multifaceted attitude toward oil, which is warning unashamedly patriotic and should begin now, before we are suckered into the next oil crisis.

American military strength and political independence depend on a suitable flow of domestic and foreign oil. Suitable means uninterrupted. We should be tough enough to get it.

Reduce gas cleansing operations, which slow production. Increase American oil drilling. Use some of the U.S oil reserve temporarily if chiefs of staff agree. Relax rules against new oil drilling in America. Yes that might make Big Oil richer, even Little Oil. That's infuriating. Too bad.

Be prepared for higher pump prices. Think of that as the independence tax, which it will be. Establish heavy fines and jail terms against conspired profiteering, even if that is against pure capitalist theory. Name guilty CEOs in presidential speechs, often. Inform OPEC and its vassal oil nations they will earn the political, technological and economic ennmity of the U.S. and that we are a lot bigger and stronger than they are.

Or we have another choice: Keep wearing the OPEC dog collar and shut up. That's simple.

A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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