According to our entire press corps, the price of gas is a political story. Not a story of world-bending pandemic instabilities, or one of the few sacrifices toward maintaining democracy that the vast majority of Americans will ever unwillingly make, or a story about record profits during troubled times. No, it's a story about politics. What will this world event "mean" in battles between ambitious political shouters and other ambitious political shouters? What narrative will win the day?
This is because political reporting is, happily, almost entirely fact-neutral. The only expertise required is the ability to ask professional politicians to say opinions at you, which may be torturous, to be sure, but doesn't require knowing about the intricacies of international energy markets, or how long it takes to raise production at a given refinery, or the effects of Chinese lockdowns on the delivery of enormous steel pollywaggles. It is, therefore, the default frame of reference for all national stories. Gas prices, climate change, pandemic policies, interest rates, infrastructure needs; all of it.
Currently, Greenland's ice sheet is slow-rolling itself into the sea, and that means the state of Florida is going to, for the most part, disappear. On the other hand, the ridiculously large vehicle you just bought because you liked the height and ability to transport several market hogs at once, if you ever found yourself in a position where you absolutely needed to transport several market hogs without taking two trips, costs a fortune to fill with gasoline because world markets are currently reeling from several uncertainties at once, and that's quite upsetting! Very upsetting! Will the party of the violent attempted coup be able to capitalize on this consumer irritation? Now there's a story!
Sigh. All right, fine. Let's do this. I'm going to give this Politico story about the political implications of rapidly falling gas prices a pass, and that is only because the whole outfit is named "Politico" and it's self-evident from the premise that it's journalism devoted almost entirely to asking how every last event and data point is being played from a purely "political" point of view.
When The Washington Post or The New York Times pipes up with the same thing week after week, it's hackish because one does not necessarily expect those larger outlets with far broader theoretical public duties to incessantly focus on political spinnery at the expense of actual research into causes and, if desired, solutions. But as far as I'm concerned, any outlet that's already humiliated itself into asserting that they'll only be looking for the political spin, and only be talking to political hacks and lobbyists to get it, has already put the warning label on the package.
You sell consumers a box labeled "dead bees, may also contain mealworms," and nobody gets to act surprised when they find either. You sell a box to consumers labeled "important world news," but consumers still find that it's about 80% dead bees mixed with an assortment of sports tallies and market charts, then yeah. People are going to get mad.
Anyhoo, the premise of the Politico version is straightforward: Oh no! Gas prices were high, but now they are going down again! For the party of violent coup attempts (ongoing), this upends one of the most effective political strategies available to distract from two years of hoax-fueled treason!
"It appears that gasoline prices may have peaked too soon to remain the lethal campaign weapon for Republicans that they seemed to be a month ago," says Politico.
"'If the market continues to respond as it has and gets back to year-ago prices, that will definitely blunt the criticism' over inflation," a professional political hack grumbles.
Oh, and there are a bunch of reasons this happened, and the Biden White House wants people to know that gas prices going down again are because They Did That, and the actual truth is considerably more muddled because the conventional expert wisdom from previous years and previous stories is that individual administrations have a hell of a lot less control over inflation and recession and the prices of consumer goods than those attempting blame or gushing praise think.
Then again, even that conventional wisdom seems to be on thinner ice these days. The last few Republican administrations appear to have shown us that while good governance can mostly just tinker at the margins of such problems, bad governance can foul things up quite quickly and effectively! Slap on a new round of steel tariffs or make smug faces through a million-plus pandemic deaths, and by golly, it turns out those things can really turn an economy on its head.
Think of it this way: If you want to make your house more resistant to fire, there are a lot of little things you can do, but very few of them, short of a complete concrete rebuild, will truly assure complete safety. But if you want to burn your house to the ground, that's easy. Call in Donald Trump and ask him to make you a cheese sandwich.
All right, I may be getting punchy here, so we should probably cut things short. Gas prices are now down more than 70 cents a gallon compared to their previous highs, and unless something new happens to foul the markets yet again, are expected to be back to roughly normal before the midterms. The question of the day is whether your average Americans will remain so resentful over pandemic-and-war-fueled fuel spikes that they will vote for those running on party-approved sedition, a radical curtailing of all(!) civil rights, and fascist dystopia.
People do love their sport utility vehicles, you have to admit. Do they love their sport utility vehicles more than they love, say, no-questions health care for their own daughters? It probably depends on the state. Seems like a good poll question, though.
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Open sesame comments.