Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hillary and the Gas Tax: More Mind-Numbing Hypocrisy on the Campaign Trail

Jon Stewart opens 'Panderer's Box'

If there's one thing consistent about Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign, it's that nothing about her stances are consistent. Be it on the issue of the war in Iraq (which she voted to approve), or troop withdrawals (where she once agreed with John McCain), or gas taxes, she has proven time and again that she is willing to say nearly anything to get elected.

Political posturing is nothing new, of course, but that the wealthiest and most politically-connected of the trio of remaining candidates is allowed to pose as the least elitist of the bunch is preposterous and a terrible failing of journalistic rigor and public use of reason. Just because someone gives a speech on the back of a pick-up truck doesn't mean she's an average person. When this is all over, she'll go back to one of her houses, take weekends to places you would be barred from, and go back to her day job ensuring that the public gets just enough carrots to keep them at bay.

The central theme to Clinton's faux populism in recent weeks has been the gas-tax holiday, an idea first proposed (this election cycle) by John McCain. Not surprisingly, given the media's typical unquestioning, non-skeptical disposition, she has been able to brush aside nearly every economist and the suggestion--a correct one, I think--that the proposal is a worthless gimmick which doesn't address the root causes.

Apparently, in terms of the economy, 'elite' means 'everyone.' The economy, of course, is one place where she's "not going to put [her] lot in with economists." Economists may know a lot about economic issues, to be sure, but until they've been driven by the Secret Service and had their gas paid for, they don't know what true Americans want.

One supposes, then, that a non-elitist economic opinion might be found by asking Senatorial-candidate Clinton what she thinks of the gas-tax repeal:

[O]ne of my fundamental disagreements during this campaign with my opponent was when he called for the repeal of the gas tax. Now, the gas tax is one of those few taxes that New York actually gets more money from Washington than we send. And we are totally reliant on it to do things like finishing I-86 in the Southern Tier, or the fast- ferry harbor works up in Rochester, as well as the work we need to do here in the city. So you can count on me to support infrastructure.


From a contemporaneous article:

Rep. Rick Lazio and Hillary Rodham Clinton continued trading swings on the gas tax as they campaigned for the Senate yesterday, with Clinton accusing Lazio of "siding with the Republican leadership instead of the needs and interests of the people of New York" on the issue.

So, there you have it: Supporting a gas-tax repeal is elitist and in opposition to the will of the people. Unless Clinton subsequently proposes a repeal, in which case the terms are reversed. No logical fallacies here.

Anything else you'd like to add, Senatorial-candidate Clinton?:

Clinton, meanwhile, lashed out at Lazio's plan to repeal 4.3 cents of the gas tax, calling it "a bad deal for New York and a potential bonanza for the oil companies."

Either Hillary forgot her economics or she's pandering in the most recent race for office. I'll settle on the latter.

The problem is, Clinton knows she's full of it. When every economist refutes your idea, it's not out of elitism. Johnathan Alter expands upon a few of the reasons. To paraphrase:

  • The oil companies are not inclined--or required--to keep prices level. There's nothing to prevent them from raising prices in response and pocketing the difference

  • The plan would save maybe $30 per person. Less than a tank of gas.

  • The Department of Transportation says it would cost 300,000 jobs. Assuming they're anywhere near the ballpark, that's a steep price to pay for Mrs. Champion-of-Blue-Collar-America. It's a little hard to go around saying you're going to save working-class jobs if you're actively pursuing a proposal that would eliminate them.

  • Most importantly: There's no way the plan is going to happen. Clinton knows it. McCain knows it. Everyone knows it.

When asked to explain the change of heart, Clinton's campaign suggests that they have a way to pay for the lost revenue, unlike Lazio in 2000. First, Lazio did have a plan to use the Federal surplus. That wouldn't have materialized, either, but he did have a plan, workable or not.

Second, Clinton's proposal is to use a windfall profits tax on the oil companies to pay for the budget shortfall, a suggestion that brings even more improbabilities into the fray. She's already used the windfall profits tax once in her campaign rhetoric, so essentially, she's spending that money twice. Again, the oil companies will gladly offset the new tax by raising prices, so the consumer will see none of it. And, finally, there's no possibility of said profits tax being enacted, certainly not by Memorial Day, as Congress already rejected the idea in December.

Clinton has staked her campaign on a plan that she, herself, has rejected outright in the past, utilized economics she knows aren't founded in reality, and proposed a politically-non-viable solution to high gas prices that is an outright pander for votes. I doubt we hear anything more of the gas-tax holiday after the upcoming primaries. In fact, I would be surprised if it doesn't just vanish down the memory hole, like so many of Clinton's campaign tactics and metrics for nomination.

After this proposal dies out, she'll work on her stock alchemist understanding of the electoral process and return to concocting a formula for which states' votes count, don't count, or count twice.

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