Gas tax Rorschach

This is weird. Contrary to the expectations of everyone on the universe, the media has covered the gas tax holiday in a fairly substantive way. As a result, a slender majority of voters actually oppose the idea. Particularly on such an emotional issue, it’s somewhat remarkable and encouraging to see voters narrowly favoring the non-demagogic position.

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Commentators, on the other hand, have been far less restrained, wildly over-interpreting the issue at every step.

A few blogger types have suggested that the gas tax pander permanently destroys the credibility of Hillary Clinton (and, presumably, John McCain) on the issue of climate change. There’s simply no way, the logic goes, that someone who cares about carbon emissions could ever come out in support of such a plan. This is plainly nonsense. Although the gas tax pander is deeply disappointing, the political calculation behind it is obvious. It in no way completely invalidates Clinton’s solid climate plan.

Others have suggested that voters’ failure to respond to the pander reflects a newfound maturity on the part of the electorate: American’s are finally ready to get serious about enacting a hefty carbon tax.

There’s clearly a heavy dose of wishful thinking going on here. The gas tax holiday created a fairly unique media event. It provided a sharp point of contrast between two members of the same political party locked in a high-profile contest. Moreover, both the simplicity and the sheer badness of the gas tax holiday idea allowed journalists to explain the underlying economics, rather than covering the issue as a he-said/she-said shouting match.

It’s certainly nice that, under these unusual conditions, roughly half of voters see the gas tax proposal for what it is . But climate change policy is a lot more complicated. There’s been dramatic movement on the issue over the past two years, but we’ve still got some distance to go.

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