Politics & Policy

Gore’s Oily Politics

It's his interest above the national interest.

There are some pressing questions that don’t interest me. Many of them begin with someone asking, “Smell this; are these things supposed to stink like this?” Others involve profoundly hypothetical questions about non-military national-security threats. And still others fall under the category of “things to do with legumes you can’t eat.”

#ad#For the sake of conversation, let’s take the second one.

In my opinion, military and strategic considerations (i.e., things that go “boom” and where to put them) are at the heart of national security. I even understand why many diplomatic concerns (“If I give you a highway, 5,000 copies of Weekend at Bernie’s, and Monica Lewinsky’s phone number, will you stop killing people until after I’m reelected?”) and some health stuff (that doesn’t look right) fall under national security.

But national security is invoked for a whole array of issues that may be important but don’t warrant that sort of mildly nationalistic rhetoric. Politicians often invoke national security to woo a specific constituency or to hype a pet program or simply when they are losing an argument. For example, “I believe that the lack of affordable housing is a threat to our national security” is one of the dumbest things a person can say other than “Mr. President, I know our daughter will be in safe hands,” or “Son, just because you’re going to prison doesn’t mean you should give up practicing for next year’s Lord of the Dance auditions. Your cellmates will respect you for your dedication.”

And yet I hear politicians saying that education, the environment, school lunches, self-esteem, children running with scissors, etc. are matters of “national security” all of the time. And, no, it’s not just because a sadistic bastard programmed my Walkman to play The Collected Speeches of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Other Politicians Who Make Us Happy There Are Republicans.


Anyway, I bring this up because I’m about three-quarters through this column and I don’t really have a point yet. But — oh yeah — I also bring this up because just about everybody missed the real significance of the recent opening up of the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

Yeah, yeah, we should stock up on oil for us to use in case of emergencies the way Al Sharpton stocks up on Twinkies, hair goop, and racial hoaxes (actually, racial-hoax kits are free at his hair salon if you buy more than $40 worth of Jheri Curl). But let’s not overstate the case. If we got into a real full-tilt boogie-for-freedom-and-justice brawl with, um, er, I guess, China, we’d find the necessary oil. This is America, we figure stuff out really fast when we need to. By the way, for a more reasoned rant, see yesterday’s piece by Jessica Gavora — without whom I would be constantly asking the nurse to up my dosage — on the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

So, yeah, Bush is right to criticize Gore for squandering an emergency provision in a non-emergency moment. And, yeah, of course Gore is flip-flopping, and pandering like Jerry Springer during sweeps week. And yes, he lied like…like — fzzt, glick erp, analogy-generator breakdown! — well, he lied like he always does when he said he was “there” when the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created and debated.

All of these things are true, and maybe they’d bother me more if everybody else and his eleven-toed cousin hadn’t already opined about them. But it seems to me there’s a larger criticism to make. Gore, Clinton, and their “thank you sir, may I have another?” crony Bill Richardson think a ten-year-record-high gas price is in itself a “crisis” and a threat to national security. This sort of thing, to me, is precisely why The Man From Carthage must be stopped (Carthago Delenda Est!).

Gore’s signature campaign promise has been that he wants to “save” the surplus; preserve the surplus; reserve the surplus; hold back the surplus; hang on to the surplus; what you talking about squandering the surplus Willis?

In fact, Gore talks about saving the surplus the way smack addicts talk about their secret stashes. And guess what? He’ll treat it the same way. Addicts save their dope for precisely as long as they don’t “need” it. And for “spendocrats” like Gore the threshold for “needing” it is lower than Robert Reich’s center of gravity. Indeed, the slightest desire of voters becomes an emergency or crisis overnight (I’m the same way with jerky and the 1986 series of Juggs).

Stick with me, people. No better example can be found than his decision to ask Clinton to release oil from the reserve. Oil is a commodity and commodities are essentially fungible. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is, economically speaking, a surplus. Selling the oil is no different than spending money to subsidize oil prices. What makes this hypocritical is that Gore thinks spending the surplus on “selfish” tax cuts is evil — but he’s releasing the oil to give Americans what amounts to a tax cut at the pumps. What makes this even more hypocritical is that Al Gore was against releasing the oil six weeks ago. What makes this the Godzilla of hypocrisy smashing downtown Tokyo is that Gore has written passionately about how important it is to raise gas prices. In Earth in the Balance he wrote “higher taxes on fossil fuels … is one of the logical first steps in changing our policies in a manner consistent with a more responsible approach to the environment.” Okay, so this is what passes for passionate writing by Gore.

Still, Gore constantly talks about how this is a moment when we have the opportunity to do “big things.” One of the “big things” in Gore’s book is to wean America from the its dark oozy mistress — no, not a tanned Rosie O’Donnell, but petroleum. There is no better time to do what Gore thinks must be done — raise oil prices — than this moment in American history. The fact that this conflicts with Gore’s political interests is not surprising. And neither is the fact that Gore’s political interests came first.


First, we are drinking champagne here at NRO (and the Laotian houseboys are getting extra helpings of gruel) because we have won the title of “Best Political Site” (scroll about half way down the page) from the New York Press. They are very generous in their write-up of many NRO players, which is really cool of them (though not as cool as marble on my belly). But they understandably left out the contributions of several behind-the-scenes players, especially Chris McEvoy and Jessica Kelsey, NRO’s managing editor and webmaster, respectively. Chris is the make-the-trains-run-on-time Mussolini of the shop (and I’m praising him because I hope he will spare my life when he leads the Laotian rabble in a coup — which I expect any day now). And Jessica is the webmaster who launched a thousand pages. Thanks much to them for making me look good (I wish I could say the same thing to the beer and jerky industries).

Second, I had planned on doing a big item about this, but now that Drudge has picked it up the surprise is gone. Still, as the writer who has done the most to popularize the nom du Frog “Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys” (search for it in the NRO search engine), I found this article fascinating.

And third, if you look on the Op-Ed page of today’s Wall Street Journal you will find a piece by me about Ronald Wilson Reagan: Ass-Kicker.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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