Let them eat cake*

I'm pretty sure you can count on James Taranto to criticize Obama for abolishing medicare.  So it's not surprising when Obama points out that market pressures–namely high prices–ought to encourage people to take a little personal responsibility; the government, on Taranto's view perhaps, is not here to "feel their pain."  Or so one would think.  But, sadly, no (link courtesy of Sadly, No!):

At a town-hall meeting yesterday in Fairless Hills, Pa., a man in the audience asked Obama about gasoline prices, which are currently in the range of $4 a gallon. According to the Associated Press, Obama responded "laughingly" and "needled" the questioner. The president's sarcasm comes through in the White House transcript:

I know some of these big guys, they're all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. You're one of them? Well, now, here's my point. If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting eight miles a gallon–(laughter)–you may have a big family, but it's probably not that big. How many you have? Ten kids, you say? Ten kids? (Laughter.) Well, you definitely need a hybrid van then. (Laughter.) . . .

So, like I said, if you're getting eight miles a gallon you may want to think about a trade-in. You can get a great deal. I promise you, GM or Ford or Chrysler, they're going to be happy to give you a deal on something that gets you better gas mileage.

The transcript shows that Obama got lots of laughs. But presumably he was speaking to a friendly audience–to people who regard the burning of gasoline as sinful and who, at least in theory, are attracted to the idea of $8-a-gallon gasoline.

People like that, to paraphrase Pauline Kael, live in a rather special world. For most Americans (we Manhattan residents are a notable exception), driving is a day-to-day necessity, and high gas prices are a constant source of economic pain. Sure, if you're driving a guzzler, it might make sense to trade it in. But not everyone has the money lying around to buy a new car at the drop of a hat. And owners of dinky cars and hybrids still have to buy gasoline for them.

The government is not here to solve the problem of high prices, one might argue.  Indeed, when the price of health care gas is high, the market will sort it out–and responsible people will make responsible choices about finite, expensive, but necessary resources.  They can't expect the government to sort it out.  Or at least, they will recognize the limitations.

Anyway, it goes without saying that Taranto has completely misrepresented the tone of the President's comments.  Here is a passage from the opener:

The fact is, for a lot of folks, money was already tight before gas prices started climbing, especially for some families where the husband or the wife had been out of work or you’ve had to get by with fewer customers or hours on the job. Having high gas prices is just one more added burden.

But I want everybody to remember, every time gases go up, we see the same pattern. Washington gets all worked up, just like clockwork. Republicans and Democrats both start making a lot of speeches. Usually the Democrats blame the Republicans; the Republicans blame the Democrats. Everybody is going in front of the cameras and they’ve got some new three-point plan to promise two-dollar-a-gallon gas. And then nothing happens. And then gas prices go down, and then suddenly it’s not in the news anymore and everybody forgets about it until the next time gas prices go back up again.

That’s what was happening when I was running three years ago. You remember “Drill, baby, drill”? That was because the economy was overheated, gas prices were skyrocketing, and everybody made a lot of speeches but not much happened. And I said then that we can’t afford to continue this kind of being in shock when gas prices go up and then suddenly being in a trance when things go back down again. We’ve got to have a sustained energy policy that is consistent, that recognizes that there’s no magic formula to driving gas prices down; it’s a steady improvement in terms of how we use energy and where we get energy from — that’s what’s going to make a difference. That’s how we’re going to secure our energy future.

It's as if he does feel their pain.  You can read the rest at the link–the link Taranto does not provide.  Wondering why.  And of course, his answer to the question about fuel efficiency is nothing like Taranto alleges.

 *a later edit included this title (I forgot to put a title on the original post).  I searching for the quoted Obama passage, I found scores of right-wing criticism of it (no surprise, it was repeated without context).  Surprising, however, that one called it Obama's "let them eat caek moment."  Now I wonder, isn't that just want conservatives would have the government do for health care, etc.?  I mean, how can Obama be a heartless French royal, and a communist with false beliefs about the environment trying to get us to drive fuel-efficient cars?


2 thoughts on “Let them eat cake*”

  1. Hey John,
    So this seems a case of TQ that shows a kind of dialectical/rhetorical duplicity, right?  Speaker S suggests that the govt help with expense X, S is a communist. Speaker S suggests that consumers make better life- and product-choices when Y is expensive, S is a heartless royal.  The frame for criticizing S is inconsistent, so there must be something else afoot.
    The trouble I see with these arguments is that that's about all they show.  Whoever is making these arguments is someone without a real principled attitude, just someone looking to score points.  That's right, but it's not clear that this point undoes either of the criticisms.  Now, my own inclination is to interpret the critical edge of the TQ charge as follows:  when the arguer makes the communist charge, that shows he is a corporate shill, and when the arguer makes the 'let them eat cake' charge, he's a corporate shill, too.  Just different corporations, same target for criticism… all with an eye to 2012.

  2. Hey Scott.  This seems right to me.  Taranto (and many others) have criticized Obama for exactly the same qualities they praised in Bush and Cheney (and of course Ryan, et alia)–a snearing disregard for how expensive health care (housing, food, etc.) is and an insistence that people take responsibility for themselves. 
    You're right that this doesn't disqualify this particular line of attack–it just means the attacker is a partisan hack whose contribution to the discussion is questionable.  He's not advancing our understanding of the communist/capitalist/royalist Obama. 
    So I wonder what to do with the problem of partisan hackery.  Perhaps one might do a little subjunctive tu quoque–if Obama were Bush, you'd make a different argument.

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