McCain Makes Gaffe on Gas Prices Which Could Affect Election

The average voter does not spend much time on the policy details of each candidate. Often a handful of events determine the image of the candidate. Michael Dukakis never recovered from the pictures in the tank and a poor answer to a question on his response if he wife were raped and murdered. George Bush never recovered from the image of him not knowing what a supermarket scanner was, even if that story turned out to be untrue.  John Kerry never recovered from the claims of the Swift Boat Liars, regardless of how many times their claims were demonstrated to be politically-motivated lies orchestrated by the right wing. John McCain has now had the moment which might determine his fate politically during this interview with the Orange County Register:

When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?

Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters.

I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of town hall meetings, many as short a time ago as yesterday. I communicate with the people and they communicate with me very effectively.

With all the attempts to paint Obama as the elitist, this demonstrates how out of touch John McCain really is. I’ve sometimes sympathized with politicians who have failed similar question as to the price of milk as I have no idea how much my wife spends on groceries. The price of gas is a different matter. As James Joyner wrote, “The price of gas is the number one issue on the minds of just about every voter these days. It’s an issue that virtually transcends class. Most of us know, to the penny, what we’re paying for gas and where the cheapest gas is in our area.”

Technically McCain was asked about the price when he last pumped as opposed to today’s price, but by saying “I don’t see how it matters” he appears oblivious to the concerns of most Americans who are very aware of the rising price.

I could understand McCain not knowing the exact price as I wouldn’t expect him to be the one actually pumping the gas while being driven during a political campaign. However it is difficult to accept him not knowing when it crossed the four dollar a gallon barrier considering how much talk there has been of this in all areas of society. An exact number was not required for this answer. If he simply responded to the question by saying it was less than four dollars when he last pumped it everyone would be satisfied that he is aware of how the price has changed. By not acknowledging the recent increases he will widely be seen as out of touch.

The four dollar a gallon number seems to be mentioned in the news and in popular culture on a daily basis. There have been numerous news stories on its impact, from companies and city governments struggling to meet the expense to its effect on the auto industry. Last weekend my wife and I had a marathon session watching the second season of Dexter .  I recall one scene where the police were looking at a photograph and one comment was on the price of gas on a sign in the background. All national politicians are to some degree in a bubble, but you have to be in a pretty thick bubble not to be aware of the price of gas. Sometimes the right answer to a question is not an answer to the exact question. While the price he paid when he last pumped gas himself is not important, it was important for McCain to acknowledge an awareness of how much the price has risen.

The mishandling of this question is primarily a problem of image. The more serious problem is that he fails to have a realistic energy policy. Think Progress writes:

McCain’s cluelessness about gas prices is compounded by the fact that he is clueless about what to do about it. He is promoting a gas tax holiday for drivers because he claims to understand “Americans are hurting.” It will provide “a little psychological boost,” McCain said of his plan.

In reality, his gas tax holiday would be worth a mere 60 cents a day for Americans and would be a boon for oil companies and foreign oil-producing nations. It would drive up the deficit. Moreover, the proposal would rob $1.4 billion from “public transportation and severely restrict the industry’s ability to add and improve transit services for a growing number of Americans.”

In fairness to John McCain I should point out that the interview wasn’t a total disaster. He did differentiate himself from Bush on some issues:

Next one from a voter: What will make you different from George W. Bush?

My vision for America.

Name a couple specific things that will distinguish you.

Climate change. Spending. The torture of prisoners. There are numerous other issues that we’ve been in disagreement on in the past. Spending is one of the fundamental one. Torture of prisoners. Addressing climate change effectively. Just to name a few.

John McCain does not deny the scientific consensus on climate change and he opposes torture. It shows how  out of touch the entire Republican Party has become when differing from them on these points make a candidate stand out.

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  1. 1
    MsJoanne says:

    Fogadabadit if you think McCain will ever be touched (or challenged) on anything remotely resembling reality. McRibs is a maverick, straight talker who has great foreign policy experience and a grasp on everything. There is not a person alive who will pry those ribs out of the cold dead hands of the press. Waiting for reality is futile (not to mention frustrating); Not. Gonna. Happen. And our country is screwed for it.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Maybe, but the media has turned on people they propped up in the past. Compare coverage of  Howard Dean in the summer of 2003 to the winter of 2004.

    Sometimes an event occurs, such as those I mentioned in the first paragraph, which completely change how a politician is perceived, as well as how they are treated by the media. This statement from McCain has the potential of drastically changing how he is viewed.

  3. 3
    MsJoanne says:

    Ron, I certainly hope you’re right, but look at what took place this weekend from Clark’s responding to the host – directly using the same words the host said – and it’s a slam to McCain (AND Obama caved on it!). Look at how Bush/McCain are taking credit for the Webb bill. Anyone saying anything about either? Only in terms of Swiftboating McCain.
    As said, I hope you’re right but I am less than hopeful.

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