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Start With the Easy Stuff

12:59 PM, Aug 20, 2012 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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"Do you trust politicians?" asks Thomas B. Edsall in the New York Times this morning. And the answer he seems to be hearing is, of course, "Not much."

Edsall interviews a woman in New Hampshire who says, presumably, what many are thinking:

They are just so out of touch with reality. With what’s going on ... There’s very few that, once they get elected, that follow through on anything they used as a platform.

Broad based skepticism toward the political class is an undeniably healthy thing, and one wishes that there had been more of it around in 2008.  Pervasive cynicism, though, is something else and we may be pretty close to that today with polls showing something like a 10 percent approval rating for Congress.  This, at a time when the national debate seems to be turning, at last, to the problems of entitlements and deficits, the scale of which would be daunting even if voters felt confident about the ability of the political class to solve them.  

Voters could be forgiven for doubting that.  After all, how can we expect a solution to the big problems when the track record on the small ones is so dismal? Consider the matter of corn-based ethanol.

Not so very long ago, opponents of the ethanol program based their objections on the usual principles.  Namely that the government program requiring the blending of corn-based ethanol in gasoline was a wasteful subsidy aimed at a narrow special interest.  That it achieved few, if any, of the benefits claimed by the people who proposed it and continued to support it, lobby for it, and profit from it.  That even the environmental benefits first touted by the backers of ethanol were a wash when measured against the expense.  Even Al Gore, who had once blessed ethanol, turned on the program.  And, then, there were the unintended consequences, such as the damage that ethanol did when it was used in small engines.  This was especially irritating to some soreheads.

But these objections were trumped by two facts.  One, it was only money and we wasted a lot more on other programs.  And, then, the people who profited most from the corn-based ethanol boondoggle lived in Iowa which is where Presidential campaigns begin and must develop early traction.  

So the program lived on even as people like Steven Rattner, President Obama's car czar, called it "completely wasteful."

That was in the summer of 2011.

Now, one year later, the nation is in the midst of a drought, which has severely diminished corn harvests.  The price of corn has risen and this has made groceries more expensive for consumers and livestock feed more expensive for farmers who will be slaughtering more animals now and bringing fewer to market later, thus pushing up meat prices substantially.  The increase in the price of corn has even made gasoline more expensive by about six cents a gallon.  

Most people do not have a choice when it comes to driving and none do when it comes to eating.  Ethanol, however, is a choice.  So, why not simply drop the requirement that it be blended into gasoline.  This would free up a lot of corn and thus drive down prices at the supermarket and the gas pump.  Consumers would get some help at a time when they could definitely use it.

So why doesn't the president issue the requisite executive order and then challenge Congress to repeal the statutes that established the program?

Well, of course, because it is an election year and nobody wants to lose Iowa. Which is a sublimely logical explanation if you belong to the political class ... to include much of the media. But it sounds like the same old stuff to voters who will wonder, naturally, why they should trust the political class to fix the genuinely and enormously difficult entitlement/deficit problem when it can even tackle a no-brainer like ethanol.

If they can't stand up to the corn farmers in Iowa, citizens will think, then how in the world can we expect them to take on the AARP?

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