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That's a Big No: Bush, Gas Prices and the Polls

April 24, 2006

With gasoline prices skyrocketing around the country, a spate of opinion polls show that President Bush is running on empty with the American people. The new CNN/Gallup/USA Today survey puts Bush's approval rating at a dismal 32%. Perhaps even more glaring, a staggering 69% of respondents claimed that gas prices constituted a financial hardship.
But if Bush is being punished for high energy costs, he has only himself to blame. This May 7, 2001 response by then press secretary Ari Fleischer captures the malign neglect that is the Bush energy policy:

Q: Is one of the problems with this, and the entire energy field, American lifestyles? Does the President believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita, how much it exceeds any other citizen in any other country in the world, does the President believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a big no. The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. And we have a bounty of resources in this country. What we need to do is make certain that we're able to get those resources in an efficient way, in a way that also emphasizes protecting the environment and conservation, into the hands of consumers so they can make the choices that they want to make as they live their lives day to day.

Fast-forward five years to Iraq in flames, escalating tensions with Iran, unrest in Nigeria, feuding with Venezuela, exploding Chinese and Indian energy consumption, and nothing has changed. Nothing, perhaps, except for a massive package of $14.5 billion in tax breaks for the energy industry.
President Bush and his Republican allies in Congress are now paying the price for the "let the burn candles" approach they debuted during the 2001 Enron-manufactured crisis in California. Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, terrified of punishment at the ballot box in November, laughably called for an investigation into price gauging. Perhaps more comical, President Bush, currently in California pitching a warmed over version of his hydrogen fuel initiative, has announced White House support for a price gauging probe.
Time will tell whether the Bush probe is too little, too late for an administration now running on vapors.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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