May 9, 2008
The Gas Tax Holiday
Since it apparently became an important issue leading up to the Indiana state primary (though it seems to have lost popularity since), you've probably heard of this "gas-tax holiday" idea. For those of you smart enough to avoid the endless parade of pundits on the news networks, I'll summarize: Basically, Hilary Clinton and John McCain decided to introduce a bill in the Senate that would suspend the federal gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon from Memorial Day until Labor Day. The purpose, they say, was to ease the burden of high oil and gasoline prices on consumers. However, Barack Obama has decided that it's not a good idea at all, because many experts have agreed that the plan would do little to actually ease any burdens on consumers. Since McCain has his nomination locked up, he's been relatively quiet about it, but Clinton seized hard on the idea as a difference between herself and Obama. It should be mentioned that Clinton has said that the bill was legitimate, and not just a political move, in and of itself.
Now as you might guess, I have an opinion about this, but I'd like to preface it with these two articles from the New York Times. The first article is in favor of the gas-tax holiday and the second is opposed to the gas-tax holiday. I really would like you to read those articles so that what i say next makes some sense. It also makes me feel better that people are seeing more than one opinion on the issue before they read mine. I don't want anyone to have the chance to agree with me without knowing both sides. So go, it'll take you maybe 10-15 minutes, and then I'll continue. I'm going to go get another glass of tea while I wait for you.
Ok, now that you've read those articles, you've seen the talking points for both sides. Did you notice what they were and how they were presented? The articles really are pretty representative of how the debate has shaped up. Opponents of the holiday (as I'll refer to it from here on) point out that a lower price for gasoline will encourage people to drive more, which is not what we ultimately want. Additionally, as people demand more gasoline, the price will go back up because refineries generally operate at or near capacity in the summer, so the supply cannot increase. Even that assumes that refineries will keep their prices the same once the tax is lifted since demand is price inelastic. There are also some difficult administrative issues involved in actually carrying out said holiday. And what do the proponents have to say? They say that this will help hard-working Americans who are struggling to get by, and furthermore, anyone that opposes the bill is clearly an elitist and is out of touch with ordinary hard-working people.
You may not have noticed, but this is a microcosm of what politics, and mainstream public debate in general, has turned into in the U.S. One one side you get all the well thought out, convincing yet somewhat dry, cerebral arguments. On the other side you get the well planned, confrontational, emotionally appealing argument. The former references experts in the field, while the latter disparages the experts. As I said, this is just one small example, but pay attention, it happens all the time. It has become the modus operandi of, first Republicans, and now most people in Washingotn. If you really want to understand how it works, read the first half of David Horowitz's The Art of Political War. Karl Rove handed it out as a pamphlet at the Republican National Convention before George W. Bush was elected the first time. The idea is basically to get people to associate certain words or images with yourself and your opponent. Hence, Clinton uses the word "hard-working" when talking about herself and "elitist" when talking about Obama as much as possible. It's the same thing that advertisers on television attempt to do with their products. And judging by election results and the amount of debt people have, I'd say that Americans have proven themselves susceptible.
As you may have guessed, my point wasn't my opinion on this holiday idea, but I said I'd give it, so here it is: It's a stupid idea that was only mentioned for political purposes. Besides my conviction that more cars on the road is not a positive, unlike Hilary Clinton I am willing to throw my lot in with the economists. Please don't construe this as my being anti-Hilary or pro-Obama, since I disagree with the "us and them" mentality that we've gotten ourselves into politically. That said, frankly Obama won points in my book by standing his ground and not backpedaling to prove how not "elitist" he is or isn't. Now can we please go back to discussing important things?
Authors Note: I actually did go get a glass of tea after I wrote that line. Also, I highly recommend all of The Art of Political War. The second half is simply a series of extended opinions on various topics, but a lot of it is very interesting, and i have to admit I found myself agreeing with Horowitz on more than one thing.