When Washington is in crisis mode, its officials move into high-speed action mode. Which is to say, they start talking faster.
And America’s gas pains — economic and political — are a major crisis that is hurting worst those who can afford it least. So Washington officials are a blur of action, racing in front of the cameras to promote their pet solutions.
The amazing aspect of escalating gasoline prices — they reached the lamentable landmark of $4 a gallon over the weekend — is that they haven’t done more damage to the U.S. economy.
The oil-price shocks of the ’70s and ’80s did much worse damage, but today’s economy seems much more resilient with interest rates low, exports surging and the dollar showing signs of stabilizing.
Well, where do we go from here?
The answer, for millions of Americans, is not very far if the oil barons and commodities speculators have their way. The cheap gas culture that has driven the nation’s economy and fostered unprecedented mobility may be over for good, leaving a major wreck along its vast network of superhighways that could take a decade or two to clean up.
I’d intended to spend only one night in Toulouse, in southern France. But when I tried to buy a train ticket to Madrid on the evening of my arrival, I discovered that the following day was dedicated to a general strike. Trains, buses, and even many airlines were taking the day off. This happened to be the same day that the price of oil hit $135 per barrel.
When I wondered aloud, "Is infidelity a sin whose time has come?" my colleague retorted, "It never left!" Indeed, the string of politicians, sports figures and movie stars cheating on their wives is an endless parade of mea culpas.
"Why do men cheat?" I asked Dr. Ruth Westheimer, psychosexual therapist, as faculty and fellows gathered for the Yale commencement this year. Her voice escalated. "It’s not only men! And put an exclamation point there. I have nothing more to say."
The average price of regular gas crept up to $4 a gallon for the first time over the weekend, passing the once-unthinkable milestone just in time for the peak summer travel season.
Prices at the pump are expected to keep climbing, especially after last week’s furious surge in oil prices, which neared $140 a barrel in a record-shattering rally Friday.