Inconveniently for Barack Obama and especially John McCain, but conveniently for the rests of us, oil prices have begun to fall — rather rapidly. On Friday, oil was selling at $114 a barrel, down better than 20 percent from its peak of $147 a barrel just three weeks ago.
Those "greedy speculators" the politicians vilified for driving up the price of oil are now seeing their investments wiped out if they bet on the price continuing to rise.
The American people are sturdy enough to be told that $4 a gallon is more a matter of simple economics rather than sinister conspiracy and that nothing either McCain or Obama has proposed will change that in the near future.
McCain and the Republicans have seized on offshore drilling in coastal regions that were previously off-limits, and Obama is beginning to come around on this issue. The idea has considerable merits but the federal government says that even if we started leasing now that oil wouldn’t start coming to market in any significant quantities until 2030. And advocates of drilling ignore or downplay the huge investment and considerable disruption of the necessary platforms, pipelines, on-shore facilities and additional refineries.
Whatever merits there are in ethanol, a rich blend of corn, taxpayer money and higher food prices, and unsightly wind farms and forever just-around-the-corner technologies like fuel cells will only affect the energy supply at the margins.
Energy as a political issue has produced a variety of fanciful proposals from the simply nutty, like McCain’s endorsement of a summer gas tax holiday, to the simply bad, like Obama’s plan to rebate $1,000 to American families through a "windfall" profits tax on oil companies. Both candidates would give taxpayer-funded rebates of $5,000 to $7,000 to Americans who buy certain newfangled cars, which is in essence a bribe to get them to purchase a car they wouldn’t otherwise.
For grandiosity, it is hard to beat Obama’s 10-year plan to create 5 million jobs by investing $150 billion in clean energy. This is pure pork and watching Congress and the lobbyists fight over those spoils would be entertainment of a high order.
And we hardly have an "addiction" to oil. Oil has been an efficient and readily available fuel for over a century and like any commodity its price sometimes goes up — and sometimes down.