THE STUMP FEBRUARY 24, 2012
In case you missed it, Mitt Romney today decided that the way to endear himself with the state he grew up in was to brag that he buys a lot of the cars it makes. This included uttering a line that will resonate far beyond the all-but-empty football stadium in which it was spoken: “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.” Not surprisingly, Michigander Jon Chait has the best theory on what the heck Romney was thinking with this riff, which will take its place as number, what, 27 on the clueless list:
It does make sense, in an extremely narrow way. If somebody were to accuse you of hating the Girl Scouts, you might point out that we bought a half dozen boxes of Tagalongs. That’s Romney’s thought process. I don’t hate Detroit, I love Detroit! I have a whole fleet of cars! My wife rides in a Cadillac, with a driver following behind in a second Cadillac in case she feels like changing colors in the middle of the trip! What? What did I say?
But before Team Obama gets too giddy over the Cadillacs, it’s worth bearing in mind that the far more consequential automotive-related matter to come out of this week is the spike in gas prices. The spike bodes very poorly for the months ahead—gas prices typically rise as summer nears—and the Republicans are of course already doing their utmost to make gas prices the cudgel that they may have lost with the improving economy. Not to mention that that improving economy will be improving more slowly if the prices keep rising. Too all of this I want to add just one observation—it is going to be very interesting to watch which tack Obama takes on this. I was covering his campaign in the spring of 2008 when a far bigger spike in gas prices led Hillary Clinton and John McCain to call for a gas tax holiday. Obama refused to go along with this, and, while getting pilloried for his stance by Clinton and McCain, used it as a pivot point for his final push against Clinton in Indiana and North Carolina: “That’s typical of how Washington works,” he said at a North Carolina rally, in a clip that made it way into a TV ad for him. “There’s a problem, everybody’s upset about gas prices—let’s find some short-term quick fix, that we can say we did something even though we’re not really doing anything. We cannot deliver on a better energy policy unless we change how business is done in Washington. . . . That’s what you need from a president—someone who’s going to tell you the truth.”
When prices started rising again last spring, amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring, there was less hard-truth talk from the White House, which was terrified that the spike was going to slow that winter’s incipient recovery and take the shine off Obama’s early 2011 bump in the polls. Instead, the administration talked up its efforts to expand domestic drilling—which has increased significantly, despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Republican rhetoric to the contrary—and it eventually tapped the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
This week, there’ve been some signs of the 2008 Obama. Perhaps feeling more confident about his political strength, Obama went on the offensive chiding Republicans for trying to make hay out of the rising prices:
Drawing a sharp contrast with Republicans and anticipating potential attacks on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama ridiculed his opponents for recycling a “three-point plan for $2 gas.” “Step one is to drill, and step two is to drill, and then step three is to keep drilling,” he said....
The president said that the United States is producing more oil now than at any time during the last eight years, with a record number of rigs pumping. The White House, he said, was prepared to open new areas in the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to exploration. But Mr. Obama warned that no amount of domestic production could offset the broader forces driving up gas prices, chief among them Middle East instability and the ravenous energy appetite of China, which he said added 10 million cars in 2010.
“Anybody who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or just isn’t telling you the truth,” he said to whoops from the crowd of nearly 1,500. Mr. Obama’s remarks, tinged with humor and sarcasm, were bluntly political, on a trip that included fund-raising events in Miami and Orlando. But his message was sober: neither he nor anyone else can do much about oil prices, which he said were likely to keep rising.
Keep an eye on this. The Republicans are going to dig into this for all it’s worth, and the centerpiece will be Obama’s decision not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Will Obama keep up the chiding, truth-teller front, counting on voters to understand that a pipeline alone will not do the trick? It would help, of course, if he had managed to pass legislation with that “better energy policy” he promised back in 2008, though he’s done some good on the regulatory front, notably with the tougher auto mileage rules. Who knows, maybe he could quote a certain songwriter who has acquaintance with large American automobiles on the matter of the energy efficiency of Ann Romney’s wheels:
Now some folks say it’s too big
And uses too much gas
Some folks say it's too old
And that it goes too fast
But my love is bigger than a Honda
It’s bigger than a Subaru
Hey man there's only one thing
And one car that will do
Anyway we don't have to drive it
Honey we can park it out in back
And have a party in your pink Cadillac