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May 4, 2008

You can’t follow the news these days without the word “pander” jumping out at you on a constant basis.  This is primarily because of Hillary Clinton’s support for the summer “Gas Tax Holiday”.  As Barack Obama has repeatedly pointed out:  it was originally John McCain’s idea and Hillary picked it up.  To replace the lost gas tax money (approximately nine billion dollars) Hillary has proposed legislation calling for the oil companies to pay a “windfall profits tax”, which will be used to fund alternative sources of energy.  The lost gas tax money would have been used to support infrastructure, most importantly construction to restore our crumbling highways and bridges.  Hillary’s plan has received loud criticism from across the spectrum of political and editorial opinion.  Even in its May 2, 2008 endorsement of Clinton, the Indianapolis Star, in an editorial entitled:  “Experience Makes Clinton Better Choice in Primary” the admission was made that: “Clinton regrettably has pandered more to voters, particularly on gas prices, than Obama.”   If they were really taking experience into consideration, they might have been curious enough to inquire as to whether Obama had any experience on the subject of a summer “gas tax holiday”.  What they would have learned was discussed by Obama on the May 4, 2008 broadcast of Meet the Press.   He explained that as a member of the Illinois Senate, he voted for a similar suspension of the (state) gas tax.  He admitted:  “… six months later, we took a look and consumers had not benefited at all. I learned from a mistake.”

Clinton’s counterpunch to the voice of experience is to stick with the Swift Boat strategy used by her campaign in labeling Obama as an “elitist”.  Her response:  “Elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans.”  When one recalls Hillary’s choreographed stop at an Indiana gas pump, where she had to admit that she doesn’t really operate any gas pumps herself, since this is done by the Secret Service, some bells should start ringing.  Maybe the “elite opinion” is coming from the former First Lady who shares $109,000,000 with her husband and who never has to touch a gas pump herself.  The lopsided majority of commentators have insisted that it is this “Gas Tax Holiday” combined with the proposed windfall profits tax, which would “really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans”.  As Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter pointed out on MSNBC’s Countdown on May 2:  Clinton’s strategy seems to be based on the notion that “… people are too stupid to realize this is a bad idea that won’t save us any money and actually hurts us at the pump” and that “only Elites will notice this”.  Mr. Alter has aptly observed that Clinton’s strategy here is targeted at “low information voters” who have not been exposed to the unanimous editorial opposition expressed against this proposal.  Whether this strategy pays off in Indiana or North Carolina will ultimately be measured by the manner in which the precious superdelegates react to the results of these primaries.  In the mean time, some aren’t waiting.  On May 2, former Democratic National Committee Chair and Massachusetts supderdelegate, Paul G. Kirk, Jr., endorsed Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, John McCain’s team has launched a new 30-second TV ad called “Health Solutions”.  In it, the announcer runs through a list of “Bold solutions for America’s health-care mess”.  One of these is to “End junk lawsuits that tax consumers.”  There is no explanation as to what this really means.  All we can draw from this is more of the same restriction of access by consumers to the civil justice system, in their efforts to redress their grievances against corporations.  What happened to the “maverick” McCain we remember from the 2000 race?  Is he just pandering to the Hard Right or is he actually drinking the White House Kool Aid?  Time will tell.

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