Commonsense aphorisms commonly make sense. Occasionally they use a metaphor to bolster their message, as in the bird who, by going into the hand, doubles his prior value, testifying to the advantage of the actual over the potential. But one widely circulated maxim maims its simile so badly it fails to convey its point. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” True, but breaking eggs does not ruin them; indeed the purpose of breaking meaningless shells is to use the valuable eggs. Breaking shells to use eggs for an omelet does not compare to damaging valuable things in the pursuit of great accomplishments. It might be that the Bush administration has relied on this flawed truism a mite too heavily.
Yesterday’s news was dominated by three major headlines. One, the price of gas is now predicted to rise to four dollars a gallon. Two, the Democrats are outdoing the Republicans in fundraising for the 2008 Presidential campaign. Three, Karl Rove’s automobile was pelted with debris by protesters outside his speech at American University in Washington. These three stories are directly related. Together they tell the grim story of where the Bush presidency has gone seriously wrong; or, more optimistically, where the Bush presidency has not yet gone right enough.
The one thing an administration can never allow is for the nation to be less at its close than at its inception. The same holds for a CEO and his company, a ball coach and his team. Individual events can be handled more or less well, with citizens and historians prepared to cut some slack — especially for a personable guy. (They cut more slacks for Clinton than a Delancey Street tailor before a bar-mitzvah.) But the whole — the mystical entity that is more than the sum of its parts — must at all costs be preserved, and preferably enhanced.
Here is where the four-dollar gasoline projection or even the three-dollar reality undermines the Bush legacy more than the mixed results in Iraq. A fair historian can balance the advantage of deposing and executing Saddam, scaring Qaddafi and killing Zarqawi against the detriment of exposing our troops to guerrilla attrition over a number of years. What no one can erase is that a country went from dollar-fifty gasoline to three-dollar and locked in at that level. Remember, the original policy of allowing gas prices to rise was Al Gore’s in Earth in the Balance, as a Luddite strategy to kneecap modernity.
Some wise guy in Washington in the 1970s came up with the trick of not counting gas prices toward inflation. They turned it from a consumed good into a capital expense, like a business investing in equipment. So fuel costs show up in inflation only after the tomato price rises because of trucking fees. In real terms, official statistics aside, the pump that makes our car run has experienced 100 percent inflation during the course of a single Republican President’s term. And if that bothers Bush, he is taking the pain like a man and keeping it well hidden. Your man in the street, your middle-of-the-road voter, your non-political type, walks away with a very simple impression. The 96 percent employment, the healthy stock market, will not make a dent.
Exxon’s $39 billion profit in the midst of all this adds insult to injury. You and I are rightly horrified when Hillary says she would like to “take” that for the government, but that figure is still an affront to every citizen of this country, possibly excluding the stockholders. At a time when people are swallowing a doubling of the cost of transportation in a short time, for providers to be expanding their profit margins is predatory and depredatory. A President who shrugs that off will have the party associated with him shut out by donors and his aides pelted by protesters. Nominally the Rove-haters may be addressing Iraq, but the disdain for Bush’s team by the “regular guy” creates the climate for the radicals to operate.
There are two other such nation-lessening ball-droppings by Bush and his team which will cost them in history: not jumping in to rebuild the Twin Towers immediately and allowing the great city of New Orleans to slide into desuetude. Those are subjects for another day. Today we are filling our attention tank with gas. Bush can still stand up, create a massive Manhattan Project to replace gas as a fuel (and embarrass the global warming guys into going along) and use creative methods to push back against the rising oil prices. When Clinton made noises about the strategic oil reserve, you may recall, prices would actually retreat. Bottom line, failure is no option.
Four-dollar gas is not breaking shells to make omelets. It is ruining the egg itself, which ultimately cannot bode well for the omelet.