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November 5, 2007

Oil Prices Keep Rising, But Will Any Candidate Be Honest About It?


A funny thing happened this week – oil prices hit a new record at $93 a barrel, and the deafening response you heard from our presidential candidates was the sound of silence.


Well, it’s not a funny thing at all, made downright depressing and perhaps even unnerving by the lack of attention oil prices in general are getting on the campaign trail.


Oil is what greases the skids of the U.S. economy, and energy itself – the big umbrella issue under which it falls – will consume the attention of the next president, who will have to tackle both how to keep the lights on and global warming.


This wasn’t just something that happened. It was predicted last month in a short-term energy outlook released by the Department of Energy, and before that by anyone paying attention with even a shred of evidence. The rationale is simple – worldwide demand for crude is rising much faster than supply. Hey, it’s basic economics at work.


We probably won’t hear the candidates start to talk about the price of oil or gasoline until next May, when gas prices are projected to hit $3 a gallon for the first time in 2008. Next year, the price of gasoline is expected to also hit a new average annual record of about $2.85 a gallon, up from $2.73 this year.


When it finally becomes a campaign issue, don’t expect honesty. The Democrat, presumably at this point Hillary Clinton, will blame oil company profits and demand both investigations into gouging and help from the federal government. The Republican, whomever that is, can be expected to get it half right in blaming supply and demand.


What he won’t tell you, and what the Democrat is certainly not going to share, is that gas prices are headed permanently high, because worldwide demand will continue to rise faster than it can be supplied. Neither of them can be expected to say something crazy like that perhaps we as a nation should consider what this means when applied to our way of life.


There is something else the Democrat won’t tell you.


Leaving Iraq precipitously is going to make matters worse. The reason for that is, according to the adults in the room (i.e. the nation’s political class), we didn’t invade Iraq – which holds the world’s largest untapped oil reserves – for oil. We might have invaded to topple one of the world’s many evil dictators, to destroy reserves of mustard gas rendered inert by time and to give democracy to people who might elect religious fundamentalists who hate us, but we certainly didn’t invade for oil. No sirree, Bob, and those certainly weren’t our tanks ringed around Iraq’s oil ministry, packed so tight that you couldn’t pry them apart with a butter knife, soon after Baghdad fell.


The Republican won’t tell you that, either, but rather than coming clean, he’ll invoke a bunch of mish-mash everyone has long since stopped believing. You know, stuff about dictators, mustard gas and democracy.


The imminent and permanent rise in oil prices will affect practically every facet of American life – from the price of food to our ability to take vacations. It also demands an openness and honesty with the American people about what life will be like in the years to come.


What it also demands is an end to the endless litany of half-baked schemes paraded as solutions. Ethanol is nice, but we don’t have the open spaces left to produce enough to satisfy our thirst and also to feed ourselves (anyway, this is good, because its highly corrosive nature makes it difficult to transport).


What we need is a candidate who takes this bit of pandering, “We must become less dependent on foreign oil,” and drops out the word foreign. The first one who does, and begins earnestly pushing things that accomplish this – mass transit and more livable communities, perhaps – will be worth listening to. Sadly, however, I suspect that the sound we’ll hear will no longer be a deafening silence, but the whoooosh of hot air.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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