Gas-Tax Holiday: Ominous Preview of a Clinton or McCain Presidency?

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But can they walk the walk? Photo: Getty Images

Something remarkable is happening right now — an actual policy debate between the three presidential candidates. (Unfortunately, this beautiful, rare occurrence has fallen squarely in the midst of the latest Reverend Wright brouhaha.) With gas prices soaring ever higher and the middle class becoming ever crankier, John McCain and Hillary Clinton have begun touting a summer gas-tax holiday, so that dads can afford to take their families on one more gratuitous, unwanted roadside detour during their summer vacations. (The gas tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon and is used towards maintaining our highway infrastructure.) Meanwhile, Barack Obama has adopted an obviously tone-deaf opposition to a gas-tax holiday, saying, "This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer. It's designed to get them through an election," he said. As it turns out, though, most pundits agree.

• Thomas Friedman writes that the gas-tax holiday is "so ridiculous [and] so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away," because we'll simply increase our debt to China, fill the coffers of Saudi Arabia, and increase global warming. And Clinton's plan to make up lost revenue through taxing the oil companies would simply be a waste, spending "precious tax dollars" on driving to the beach, instead of innovation. [NYT]

• The L.A. Times editorial board says that only Obama is right about the gas tax, and it's partly due to seeing a similar gas-tax holiday fail when he was a state senator in Illinois. [LAT]

• Nick Timiraos and Elizabeth Holmes write that, while two candidates look to lower gas prices, all of them support some form of cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gases, which is likely to result in higher gas prices for consumers. [WSJ]

• Matthew Yglesias believes that, based on Clinton's gas-tax-holiday proposal, it's "very hard to imagine that she's prepared to try to do anything about climate change," and, given her supposed gift for policy wonkery, he would be pleased to see "some creative thinking on a tough problem rather than mindlessly parroting John McCain's proposals." [Atlantic]

• Noam Scheiber applauds Obama for being "absolutely right on the merits" and thinks this will help him reclaim some of the high ground he's lost in recent weeks, though it would also be good for him to do something to address, without pandering, "people's current economic angst." [Stump/New Republic]

• Paul Krugman calls McCain's plan "a really bad idea" and Clinton's plan "pointless rather than evil," and he gives Obama credit for saying no. The reason a gas-tax holiday won't work is that gas prices are inelastic, or at least will be this summer, and the price of gas will rise to the same pre-holiday level, which makes the plan a "giveaway to oil companies, disguised as a gift to consumers." [Conscience of a Liberal/NYT]

• Alex Koppelman points out that political campaigns rarely care about the actual merits of their policy proposals and that few experts have actually been consulted in the current discussion. Maybe that's because some are even calling for an increase in the gas tax as a way to fight global warming and reduce our oil dependency. [War Room/Salon]

• Andrew Sullivan calls the gas-tax holiday "one of the most depressingly crude pieces of political pandering I've seen in ages" and thinks both Clinton's and McCain's support of it says something about their "their fitness to be president." [Atlantic]

• Chuck Todd and friends wonder whether voters will be smart enough to see past the pandering, in a test of how closely people are following the campaign. They also posit that "one could argue" that the debate over the gas-tax holiday could sum up the candidacies and potential presidencies of Clinton and Obama. [First Read/MSNBC] —Dan Amira

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.