The liberal blog Daily Kos was displeased with the Associated Press report on Monday that President Bush had ordered the Justice and Energy Departments to “open inquiries into possible cheating in the gasoline markets.”
What particularly peeved the Kos was the AP’s reference to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist having urged the president to order a federal investigation into price gouging or market speculation — without the AP also mentioning that Sen. Chuck Schumer had called for the same things a week ago.
I can understand the Kos’s peevement. Liberal Democrats don’t like the idea of Republicans poaching the Democrats’ populist economic demagoguery: Neither do I — but for different reasons.
One of the things that always made me feel good in the morning was waking up and realizing I did not belong to the same political party as Chuck Schumer.
It made me feel clean — even before I took a shower. But now, with my Republican president pulling a “full Schumer,” even a series of showers will not help.
Of course, no sensible person — not even a sensible liberal (yes there are still a few of that species roaming about in obscure locations, though they dare not show themselves at Democratic Party media events) — believes that the price of gasoline went over $3 a gallon because of nefarious practices by Big Oil.
There is a worldwide price of oil inexorably being driven upwards by increasing world demand, flat supply and rapidly increasing risk of war, terrorism and dangerous politics in most of the oil-producing regions of the world (the Middle East, Nigeria, Venezuela and the Caspian Sea Basin).
While it is true that the consolidation of the oil business through mergers a few years ago has, according to conventional economic theory, rendered the gasoline market slightly “imperfect” — there is still vigorous price, product and service competition between both the big four oil companies and the many independents in retailing gasoline at the multiple stations at virtually every corner in American cities and on the highways.
(As every driver knows, there is almost invariably one station at a corner charging a few pennies per gallon less than the competitor across the street — testing to see if they can make up in higher volume what they lose by lower prices.)
One could point out that the price of a gallon of gasoline has been going up and down and up and down and up and down over the last few years — all the while there being just those four consolidated big oil companies. The variable has not been consolidation; the variables have been the world price of crude, operational downtime for repair and maintenance at our refineries, and after Katrina, the temporary physical disruption of the supply chain.
It is ugly to see politicians trying to exploit for political gain the economic ignorance, paranoia of large corporations and petty envy that burden elements of the public mind.
But at least for the Schumers of this political world, they can claim in defense that they have become habituated to such demagogic practices through long usage. They can no longer help themselves.They wouldn’t know how to function without constantly reciting gibberish to their gullible base voters.
Even Republican congressmen and senators can be partially forgiven for tiptoeing into the garden of demagogic delights — in their increasingly forlorn hope that their failure to legislate responsibly may be offset this November by foreswearing their proud elephant trumpeting of honest economic principles for the tinny bray of the demagogic jackass.
But a president should be above such sly contrivances. Even a president at 32 percent job approval has a duty to educate the public — not to encourage the worst paranoid instincts of a fearful and disgruntled public.
Moreover, it won’t work. For the sorry element of the public that may be moved by such openly cynical rhetoric and empty gesture, the Schumers of this world are their natural candidates.
At least all the Democratic Party Schumers have been consistently peddling such balderdash for decades. Such rote methods tend to gain a level of believability amongst the particularly feebleminded.
But Republicans, and particularly Republican presidents, have commendably been defending the logic and efficacy of the market-place since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. It has been their great contribution to American prosperity, and the solace of hardworking, productive, rational Americans.
Even the most mentally limited amongst us will smell a rat when they see a Republican president suddenly start reciting such blatant Schumerisms, while the more mentally alert will be disheartened to no longer have a champion for free markets.
The president has been poorly advised to take this step down the path. He should return to the stout defense of the reliability of the marketplace for which we all know he stands.