WHO YOU CALLIN'...

WHO YOU CALLIN' STUPID? Methinks a lot of folks out there are too quick to underestimate the intelligence of highly trained professional politicians. The basic dilemma facing Democrats at the moment regarding gasoline goes as follows:

High gas prices are very unpopular with the public. This presents an opportunity for the opposition party to score gains against a genuinely pernicious incumbent party by presenting itself as prepared to "do something" about the situation. But, simultaneously, the correct liberal point of view is that high gasoline prices are actually a good thing for environmental and foreign policy reasons. Ergo, Democrats propose "legislation that would put a moratorium on the Federal gasoline tax for at least 60-days to provide consumers immediate relief at the pump,� but would also "chop oil company tax benefits and burden refineries with unwarranted reporting requirements, making it unable to win enough support in Congress to have even a remote chance of passing." This accomplishes the political goal of making the Republicans unpopular -- siding with their corporate masters to defeat a plan to lower the price of gasoline -- while also accomplishing the policy goal of not making gasoline prices lower. That, to me, deserves the label "smart."

Instead, John Whitehead, at the Environmental Economics blog, calls it "silly plus stupid (i.e., "inefficient" to an economist)" and Brad DeLong chimes in labeling the initiative an example of "stupidity." But it's not silly, it's not stupid, and it's a very efficient way of combining the Democratic Party's two primary goals under circumstances where they seem to be deeply in tension. If you want to call it "dishonest political theater" or "posturing," then that's your right. But it's very smart posturing. The substantive drawbacks of the proposal are no downside at all because it clearly can't pass and, what's more, it's clearly been deliberately designed to be unable to pass. This is the savvy leadership Amy Sullivan's been talking about.

--Matthew Yglesias

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