TCS Daily

Power Play

By Brock Yates - April 12, 2004 12:00 AM

While we all like to think that our particular hometown cities contribute to the national culture, there are in fact only three that truly count. They are the media and arts center of New York, the movie and music Nirvana of Los Angeles and the political powerhouse of Washington, D.C. The rest of us, sadly, are mere sponges for the ideas, concepts and often patent balderdash produced by the trio.

Yet for all of this fog of nonsense billowing out of our elite paradises, the American public possesses a strange instinct for divining the truth. It often takes time, the decisions rising from an empirical osmosis, as opposed to the blather being offered up as truth by those who consider themselves somehow smarter than the vox-populi.

At this point the upcoming presidential race appears to be a dead heat between the President and the challenger, Mr. Kerry. That is based only on the results of various polls, the reliability of which is always suspect. But if they are accurate, the pair will face off on such issues as job growth, Iraq, the deficit and Mrs. Kerry's bank account. The elite media, positioned on the left as usual, will favor the Senator, echoing his call for massive tax increases and UN salvation from the Iraq quagmire.

The President, meanwhile, will hunker down behind his proven resolve to fight terror head-on and the benefits of lower taxes.

But both men share a seat atop a political powder keg that could shatter one or both of their hopes for success in the general election. I speak of the rising prices of gasoline that neither seem to be prepared to deal with. Of course Senator Kerry has advocated at one time a 50 cent per gallon added tax on gasoline to cut consumption. But with news that Saudi Arabia plans to cut production by one million barrels a day, which will surely drive up prices beyond their record level as the summer driving season approaches, that particular component of his stump speech has somehow been excised.

Meanwhile in the White House the President remains mute on the issue, other that to quietly jawbone the Saudis about their production cut and vaguely promise relief to the masses. As the price rises toward $2.50 a gallon for regular, Senator Kerry will no doubt begin to scream about the administration's cozy ties to the oil business and claim that sheer profiteering lies at the source of the problem. He will also repeat his call for development of alternate energy sources, including such economically absurd technological whimsies as wind, geo-thermal and solar power and fuel-cell powerplants for automobiles.

This will stimulate the biggies in the television and print media to resume their yelps for more money and research in alternate energy fields with the overt suggestion that the big oil and auto manufacturers are road blocking the door to paradise by forcing the internal combustion engine down our throats. This presumes a tight cabal among the automakers, all of whom apparently meet in secret session to maintain their alliance with the petroleum moguls.

Totally ignored is the fact that the Japanese, German and American industries are in a worldwide war for survival. There is no possible way that any accord could be reached as the three -- all further split and divided among their individual manufacturers, can't agree on anything, much less a stabilization of technology.

Already the Japanese are pounding ahead with gas-electric hybrids while the Germans work to develop highly efficient diesels, all in the name of energy conservation. The American industry, trailing behind, has invested heavily in fuel cells, with little reward and now drives hard to market gas-electric hybrids in the near future.

As I have said before, the mere fact that gas-bag pundits and political princes demand fuel cells or other technological breakthroughs means no more than mandates to cure cancer or to invent perpetual motion.

There is no debating that massive energy challenges lay ahead. The growth of China and the Far East's demand for energy (read oil) pose enormous threats to the long-term stability of the world economy.

Surely conservation of one kind or another is essential. But gas rationing -- as tried by the Nixon administration following the OPEC embargo of 1973-74 -- or Senator Kerry's egregious taxation of gasoline are useless and counter-productive notions. The irrefutable law of supply and demand must remain in play -- provided hanky-panky is not the instigator of price-gouging.

At this point the American public is stoically accepting the spike in prices. Sales of low-mileage sports cars and SUV's have yet to be effected. But there are limits to the public's tolerance. If prices surpass the afore-mentioned $2.50 a gallon for regular, the President may pay a disastrous price in November.

His first move ought to level with the American public as to why this increase in prices is taking place, shucking, if possible the charge by the Democrats that he and Vice President Cheney are in the thrall of the big oil cartels.

The American public has an amazing tolerance for truth, good or bad. If the President plans on any long-term stay in Washington, he had better start -- in the words of the late Howard Cosell, "Tell it like it is" with regard to the price of gasoline. Right now Mr. President. We can handle it.


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