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The Ultimate Assistant to the President

From the Scrapbook.

May 16, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 33 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Throughout the Obama presidency there’s been a steady stream of stories about radical policy proposals from various quarters of the administration. As a general rule, these stories are so crazy it’s scarcely believable they’re even contemplating the cockamamie ideas. Remember when the EPA was considering a ban on traditional lead ammunition? Or the Obama administration’s feints at putting serious curbs on sport fishing? Such proposals have a tendency to be quickly squashed, but they are a rather revealing window into the mentality of the Obama administration’s worker bees.

Well, here’s the latest what-on-God’s-green-earth-are-they-thinking story: A proposal is afoot to tax people based on how much they drive. Curiously, the administration is trying the neat trick of saying it doesn’t necessarily support the proposal even as it floats the plan.

“This is not an administration proposal,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told the Hill. “This is not a bill supported by the administration. This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration, does not take into account the advice of the president’s senior advisers, economic team, or cabinet officials, and does not represent the views of the president.”

Not supported by the president? Well, it has been a whole month since the president told citizens at a town hall in Pennsylvania struggling with gas prices to buy new cars. This is a president who can’t bring himself even to pretend to feel your pain.

It’s also curious that this is happening now in light of contemporary transportation trends. We used to decry “white flight” to the suburbs, but in recent years the opposite has been happening. Wealthy transplants have been driving up property values in revitalized city centers, causing many to seek affordable housing elsewhere. 

Just last week, the Los Angeles Times had an editorial celebrating the fact that growth in the “Inland Empire” outside of L.A.—driven mostly by minorities and urban poor—had slowed. Apparently, this growth was responsible for Southern California’s “dependence on cars, its sprawl and the lack of regional planning.” 

Naturally, the Times editorial board’s concern over a “lack of regional planning” devolves into predictable whining about not building pie-in-the-sky public transportation projects. Apparently, the fact that millions can’t afford to live in the city but can afford cars is a problem that needs to be rectified. (The car tax proposal is one possible solution to this vexing conundrum.) Reason writer Tim Cavanaugh, a former Times editorial board member, has called this editorial out for what it is: “Purse-lipped snobbery wrapped up in a disguise of liberal concern.”

There’s an election next year, so don’t expect the president to push a driving tax. But deep down, just know that his administration is probably seriously considering any number of ridiculous ideas to stop the angry phone calls from Al Gore and force Americans onto those impractical high speed rail lines Obama’s so intent on building. We might call taxing car drivers by the mile “purse-lipped snobbery wrapped up in a disguise of liberal concern,” but to Obama it’s simply “catering to the base.”

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