There’s been a hell of a lot of negativity going around recently on the news, in the blogosphere, and in the homes of SUV-driving soccer moms around the country about rising oil and gas prices. The Drudge Report had a running ticker on the top for a little over a week constantly advertising the new records oil prices were breaking. It was getting updated, it seemed, almost by the hour. Farmers are switching to mules to pull their tractors, saying it’s “the way of the future!” Cops are going old school too; with their cruisers chugging gasoline like desperate alcoholics, they have no choice but to start walking their beats in an effort keep costs down. And it’s only going to get worse says Robert Hirsch, an economic analyst and apparent Prophet of the Apocalypse. Hirsch stated on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that “$12 to $15 gas is inevitable” in the next two decades. That would mean that, the average American, filling a fifteen gallon tank just once a week, would spend between 20 and 25 percent of pre-tax income on gasoline.
Anyway, with all this pessimism floating around it was refreshing to find an article that, perhaps inadvertently, took a step back and put things into perspective. Some of the highlights:
- When you adjust for current exchange rates, gas costs $7.70 in France. Somehow it seems like it should feel better to know that somewhere, there’s a French guy getting screwed worse than you.
- Currently, an average of 3.7% of disposable income in America goes to covering fuel for transportation. That sounds like a lot, especially compared to 1.9% just ten years ago, but it’s still not as bad as the 4.5% people paid in 1981.
- Also, when you factor in improvements in fuel economy (which averaged LESS than 10 mpg in the 1970s!) and inflation, Americans are paying less per mile—“only” fifteen cents—than in 1981, when the cost was just a little over seventeen cents per mile.
But things are still pretty terrible, right? Well, not necessarily, for the middle class at least. In a heart-wrenching tale worthy of the silver screen, this same article wrote, “For many people, high energy costs mean fewer restaurant meals, deferred weekend outings with the kids, less air travel, and more time close to home.” Since I don’t have kids who could spend all Memorial Day weekend complaining about how we don’t get to go to Disneyland, maybe I don’t have room to talk, but it seems to me that staying at home with your family and friends to barbecue and play Frisbee instead of going to Applebee’s and spending three days crammed into an overcrowded campground with every family from suburbia is far from the worst tragedy that could befall today’s American home.
It isn’t even the worst energy crisis our country has faced. Just like the last one, we’ll get through it alright, and who knows? Maybe this was just the wakeup call our country—and our leaders—needed to make major strides towards energy independence.
Just yesterday I was watching Lou Dobbs when he showed a clip of John McCain speaking to reporters on his campaign bus, criticizing Barak Obama’s plans for foreign policy. I have to say, I was a bit surprised—I knew McCain called him naïve, on more than one occasion, but he really didn’t pull any punches this time:
“Barack Obama is naïve enough to believe that if he sits across from … Raul Castro or, uh, Ahmadinejad, that they’ll be able to work things out”
This, of course, is because diplomacy, communication, and negotiation are unwieldy, time-consuming, and ineffective means for getting what you need, when you need it. If the President says the US will open talks with a rogue leader, what he’s basically saying that the United States plans on “Caving in like a little girl and giving the terrorists what they want.”
After all, when Kennedy decided to engage in an extensive dialogue with Nikita Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and install a phone line between Moscow and Washington immediately afterwards, it forced the only direct war between the Soviet Union and the US. And when Nixon went over to Beijing to talk with Mao about thawing relations between China and the US, the Communists took over the Senate in the 1974 elections. Oh, wait…I forgot. None of that actually happened, because the use of diplomacy as a viable alternative to economic sanctions, the silent treatment, or military force actually managed to heal old wounds rather than pour salt in them.
Now, before I go any further, I have to say that McCain may be right in his underlying message. An unflinching reliance on diplomacy alone, accompanied by the inability to recognize when negotiations have collapsed *cough cough Jimmy Carter cough cough* is dangerous and absurd. No president should ever take any options off the table, and the willingness to adapt should make up a major part of any approach to foreign policy-making. That goes for anything, though. The last eight years have taught us that an unflinching reliance on hard power is equally as destructive—inflexibility, like radicalism or eating paint chips, is inherently misguided.
We know McCain thinks Barack Obama is some sort of idiot romantic. But what does he think should be done instead? In one interview, he stated that he would not “legitimize someone like Raul Castro by quote, sitting down with him,” also saying that “As soon as the political prisoners are free … and free elections have been held. Then I would sit down with any freely elected president or leader of Cuba.” Now who’s naïve? Since when was ignoring a major problem ever the best solution for it? Not only do you fail to cultivate any sort of meaningful partnership, but by stubbornly giving another government the cold shoulder, you implicitly give it recognition. The “tough guy” approach also coalesces popular opinion in that country against you, as has been seen in Russia, Iran, and Iraq. If McCain, as President, plans simply to ignore the leaders of other countries and cut off diplomatic ties with them in the hopes that their people will rise up, overthrow them, and vote in a pro-American government backed by an iron-clad, democratic constitution, he is clearly living a fantasy. He would be better off coming back to reality, recognizing the current world situation, and attempting to regain Third World support for America.
McCain’s criticisms seem even more foolish when one takes into account the fact that, to my knowledge, Barack Obama is no Pollyanna about the prospects of diplomacy. It is not, and never has been, Obama’s expectation that he and Castro and Ahmadinejad and Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il would all sit down, have a couple of beers, slap each other on the back and say “Wow, sorry about all the shit that’s happened for the last few decades. You guys want to just call it even and we can go bass fishing next weekend?”
No, the route to the peaceful resolution of any dispute is much more difficult than that, and Obama knows it. Diplomacy with all nations, regardless of their values, is simply a long-neglected tool that he is willing to dust off and use to rebuild America’s image and standing in the world. McCain would be wise to quit pandering to the masses of uneducated voters who fail to grasp the current international picture, recognize that America cannot achieve her goals with her enemies with hard power alone, and start making plans of his own to meet with world leaders, both pro- and anti-American. Evil isn’t contagious, so I’m sure he could do it without endangering himself too much.