As gasoline prices rise toward $2.50 a gallon, the Bush and Kerry campaigns are battling over the causes and solutions to this consumer "problem."
The problem is, though, they've both got the wrong problem, and are pandering to short-term consumer instincts.
Even though motorists wince at the cost of filling up, a quick reminder about past inflation usually enlightens them that gas prices haven't been this low in two decades - in real dollars. And the percentage of average income spent on gasoline also remains low.
The real problem is that gas is just too cheap as the Age of Oil nears empty.
If anything, gas prices should be higher (and less erratic) to help force the shift to other types of energy and transport, or to better conservation - well before world production of oil starts to decline within two decades, as most experts forecast.
Instead, John Kerry and President Bush are trading charges that each has directly or indirectly toyed in the past with an additional 50 cent tax on gas, believing voters will recoil at this "pocketbook" issue.
But motorists have long accepted federal and state gas taxes that pay for highways. With leadership, the candidates should be endorsing a gas tax hike as a self-evident incentive to prepare for a postoil economy and as a source of revenue for research and development of renewable energy.
They're also arguing over whether the government should stop putting oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help bring down prices. In 1996 and 2000, President Clinton sold some SPR oil, but the sales had a negligible effect. The SPR should be kept for its sole purpose: an emergency supply for unexpected shortages, such as after a possible terrorist attack on oil facilities.
The more Americans can reduce oil imports by using less gasoline, the less money will flow to a few Middle East autocrats whose policies have encouraged anti-US terrorists. And a higher gas tax is the best way to curb OPEC's strategy of keeping oil prices going up and down in order to slow long-term investment in alternative energies.
Through wise energy policies and the general rise in oil prices over the past three decades, the US has cut its energy use, as a share of GDP, in half.
Why stop now?