Monday, March 28, 2011

What's Logic Got to Do With It?

Robert Rapier of the Washington Post deserves credit for trying.

As gas prices have continued to go up, so has the general anxiety level of American consumers.

They heard what Ben Bernanke said about how this would be short–lived, but he's been criticized for overly sunny projections in the past (remind me again, how did his projections work out during the Bush years?) — and they can see how higher gas prices are affecting their personal budgets.

Uncertainty and anxiety begat scapegoats. It always works that way — and, as I say, Rapier deserves credit for his attempts to put out the fire with his piece about prevalent myths about rising gas prices.

But history shows he's fighting a losing battle.

I guess the best place to begin is in October 1973, when the Arab oil embargo occurred. The oil producing nations were only beginning to flex their political muscles at that time, and the price of a barrel of oil in those days (around $5) seems ridiculously low.

But it represented a 70% increase in the price of oil, and, for the first time, Americans began to feel financial pressure at the pump.

The president, Richard Nixon, paid a political price. His approval ratings — which had been in the 30s since it was disclosed that summer that previously secret recordings of Oval Office conversations existed and could verify what had been said — slumped into the 20s that October, and there they stayed until Nixon resigned the following year.

Nixon's dreadful approval ratings were hardly the fault of the oil embargo alone — but it certainly didn't help him.

The same could be said for Jimmy Carter and the 1979 energy crisis.

When 1979 began, Carter's approval rating was right around 50% — but he spent most of the rest of the year struggling with an approval rating in the 30s.

That is not the way any president wants to spend the year prior to seeking re–election.

There were other things that contributed to Carter's difficulties with the voters — and he did enjoy a brief resurgence when the U.S. embassy in Iran was captured — but the energy crisis clearly worked against him.

I believed he was right when he spoke to the American people about the long–term threat posed by our dependence on foreign oil. I thought he was being very logical.

But logic had nothing to do with it.

Rapier is right when he says a president has no influence on what consumers pay for fuel, at least not in the short term. A president's policies can have a long–term effect, but the results will not be seen overnight.

That's the logical way to look at it.

But what does logic have to do with it?

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