Gore's oil game: Just how dumb are the voters?

By Joe Schembrie
web posted September 25, 2000

Oh please, do they think they're geniuses or something, and this one just flew over our heads and we can't figure out what they're doing?

As oil prices rise from a worldwide shortage -- much of it on account of the Clinton Administration's own anti-oil production policies -- Vice President Al Gore steps forward to request that the government tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), so that we will have enough heating oil available to keep the widows and orphans warm this winter.

Now, let's get this straight. The lapdog of the Clinton Administration is suddenly, independently telling them what to do?

Can you imagine any vce president in history -- Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, George Bush the Elder, each of them stronger personalities than Al Gore -- ever making such a public request of their President without first engaging in private, low-key consultation with the administration, and then making a joint announcement?

Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers

Obviously, where Clinton is concerned, another kind of behind-the-scenes political consultation did take place. But apparently, Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who is an economist and not a political operative, was left out of those meetings. In his own memo to Clinton, Summers warned that Gore's plan to deplete the SPR "would be a major and substantial policy mistake" and would have "a modest effect" on prices at best.

The 'major problems' come because the SPR, of course, is the country's emergency back-up supply of oil, intended to keep our military machine running in the event of an international crisis that cuts us off from foreign oil. Without the fuel derived from the SPR, all our military tanks, planes, and ships risk becoming so many uselessly immobile toys. Maybe Gore doesn't care, but Saddam and China will.

The Clinton-Goreans must know this, but in their political calculations, risking American national security is a minor offset compared to the electoral gains that Al Gore can reap by personally allocating oil to those states which have him running ahead in the polls.

And so what if the price reduction is 'modest?' Perception is everything, and even if prices go up, Gore can always claim they would be a lot worse without his intervention. There are people ready to believe that -- though Gore's proposed five-million barrel release from the SPR amounts to but a few cups per consumer, a mere tablespoon per day this winter.

It's an age-old political trick, incumbents handing out government goodies on the eve of an election -- but in the past, no national politician ever thought to risk an international crisis to do so. Or at least, American voters used to be smarter. Not any more.

The Clinton Administration's political genius -- if you want to call it that -- is in recognizing that there is today a huge segment of the American public that just can't get enough of being duped. "Sell my birthright for a bowl of soup? Sure, what's the catch?"

The conservative opposition's political stupidity -- if you want to call it that -- comes in not being able to accept the objectively-verified truth that such blatantly transparent ruses actually work upon sizable numbers of 'the most educated and informed electorate in the world today.'

Al GoreBut lest there is any doubt that this current crisis is scripted, Al Gore is already out there claiming that it's all the oil industry's fault: "We know what is going on here and we have to end it . . . If I am president, I am going to stand-up to ‘big oil' and demand fair prices for our families."

What does "stand up to 'big oil'" mean in this context? Investigations, witchhunts, regulations, quotas, rationing, government planning -- in short, everything that will discourage investment and ensure a continuing crisis in oil.

His program will be socialistic -- and wasn't socialism discredited around the world just a few years ago? Yet the average Democratic Party voter has already forgotten the Berlin Wall. Heck, they've already forgotten impeachment (except for the 'naughty parts').

In this age of Clinton, exploiting such naivete with painfully transparent machinations will continue to be interpreted as 'political genius.' Until, that is, Saddam moves against an oilless US military. But hey, we can always blame the oil companies for that too!

And when there isn't any oil, there will still be Democratic Party politicians to curse the darkness and blame 'Big Candle' for causing night to fall.

Someone in Middle America is sure to vote even for that.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right and can be reached at joeschembrie@enterstageright.com

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