ESSAY- No holiday: McCain & Clinton, see the error of your ways
The writers of The Federalist Papers were right: our political system pretty much demands our candidates pander to our short-term, self-involved thinking.
"Courageous" John McCain and "fighter" Hillary Clinton are only the latest in a long line of politicians to "see which way the parade is going and get in front." But their pandering today is terrifying.
In spite of the long-term economic, social, financial– and especially rational– common-sense observation that America needs to raise gasoline taxes to decrease single-occupancy driving, these presidential candidates are pandering by offering voters a gas tax holiday this summer.
To put it simply: making driving "easier" and "cheaper" will eliminate any chance of solving America's primary issues.
We've already sent our sons and daughters to the Middle East at least partially over its oil. We're already the fattest people on the planet in part because we no longer walk or bicycle anywhere. We're already creating the most greenhouse gases in the world because 87 percent of our commute trips are alone in a car. We're already so congested that it's costing over $63 billion annually. We've already found cancer-causing gasoline additive MTBE in the groundwater of 28 states.
Already, importing oil is the largest single chunk of our foreign trade deficit. Already, air pollution– excluding global warming– from car exhaust is costing us a minimum of $24 billion annually.
We already don't know our neighbors because we rarely get out of our cars.
Indeed, according to one study, the unrecovered cost of gasoline not included in the price we pay at the pump is over $10 a gallon. We're shooting ourselves in the foot because we and our politicians– even Al Gore, who pulled a similar stunt during the 2000 campaign– won't recognize that our drive-first attitude is hugely destructive.
From Nobel economist Gary Becker to energy guru Charles Maxwell to N.Y. Times editorialist Robert Franks– and, yes, even President Bush– every knowledgeable person who studies oil, environmental, health and foreign policy issues today says fairly clearly that we must address our addiction to oil.
Unfortunately, history shows that the only thing that slows America's thirst for foreign oil to burn in our 2.9 trillion– yes, with a T– driving miles is higher gasoline prices.
As humans, we Americans love to blame the "thems" of the world, but the fact of the matter is America can't leave the Middle East because we– with less than five percent of the world's population and 2.7 percent of the world's oil reserves– use 26 percent of its petroleum annually. Two in three barrels of proven oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf.
We love to blame the "thems," but traffic planners have said for a decade that America can't build our way out of congestion. Every single highway project gets more people to drive more places at more times and usually worsens our suburban sprawl.
We love to blame the "thems," but since "Daddy" George Bush's Clean Air Act gave power and manufacturing plants an economic incentive to emit less sulfur dioxide, industry has reduced CO2 emissions by 23 percent relative to GDP. Today, America's largest producer of greenhouse gasses– and fastest growing emitter– is our transportation sector. Our planes, trains, and automobiles create the most global warming and the most pollution of all the sectors of the economy.
We emit almost half of the world's automotive CO2.
We love to blame the "thems," but for 20 years HMOs– and CEOs and MDs– have been telling us to make our kids get exercise. Today, though, only 17 percent of kids arrive at school under muscle power (compared to seven in ten in 1960 when we were still a healthy nation), and "adult onset diabetes" no longer waits for puberty.
Senator McCain, you know very well that Americans need to take personal responsibility (or act Republican) to mitigate so many societal issues, or act Democratic by 1) taxing gasoline and diesel significantly to discourage frivolous use; 2) using the new and saved monies to build mass transit as fast as we can while 3) halting construction of more automobile infrastructure.
You say, Senators, that you have the "experience" of reaching across the aisle. Where, Senator McCain, is your vaunted "courage" for showing us the truth? Or, Senator Clinton, your "readiness to answer the 3am call" from across the world?
With 75 percent of 38,000 Pew Trust respondents worldwide saying that America is fighting in Iraq not to spread democracy or even to stop weapons of mass destruction, but to seek oil, you must be aware, Senators, that our thirst for oil is destroying our foreign policy.
Certainly, you know that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez threatens, regularly, to cut us off. You should know that Nigeria is on the verge of a civil war. And you must know the other nine OPEC nations are all Islamic.
America, as both of you have to understand, needs higher gasoline taxes. A tax holiday today will only put each of your administrations– should either of you be successful– further behind a horrifying eight ball.
Randy Salzman, a former communications professor, is a Charlottesville-based freelance writer.