As you're filling up your tank with $3 a gallon gasoline this weekend, George W. Bush will be flying to California to visit, among other things, a facility where automobile manufacturers and energy companies are working together on hydrogen cars.
Air Force One doesn't run on hydrogen, of course: Senate Democrats say the plane consumes jet fuel at the rate of about $6,000 an hour. Together with the cost of gassing up the president's limousine, all those Secret Service Suburbans, the police helicopters that will buzz overhead ... well, suffice it to say that Bush won't be doing much in the name of conservation on this particular Earth Day.
We can't pretend to know whether the president will be thinking about such things as he flies west; maybe he thinks, as Dick Cheney once said, that conservation is more of a "personal virtue" than a policy goal. But the president has got to be thinking about gas prices, if for no other reason than his approval ratings seem to march in a sort of inverse lockstep with them. As we noted yesterday, a new Fox News poll has Bush's popularity at its lowest level to date, and Fox says gas prices are a big part of the problem: Approximately 60 percent of Fox's respondents cited rising gas prices as evidence that the economic picture in the country isn't quite as rosy as the president says it is.
As Congress returns to Washington next week and the Democrats seize on the price at the pump as proof of Bush's failings, you can expect to hear a lot of talk about how the president doesn't really have much control over gas prices.
But that's not the story Bush told when he was running for office back in 1999. Then, he took Bill Clinton to task for not doing more about gas prices, and he said it was incumbent upon the president of the United States to "pick up the phone and jawbone OPEC leaders so they will open up the spigot." Is Bush taking his own advice? It sure doesn't look like it. Scott McClellan was asked earlier this week whether the White House is "urging OPEC nations" or other oil-producing countries to "increase output or do anything to relieve" prices. His answer began with comments about the increased demand for gasoline in China and India, and moved farther away from the question after that.
Of course, it could be that Bush thinks he's already done enough about the price of gas. As Think Progress noted earlier this week, the president's senior economic advisor said back in 2002 that "regime change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil" and tend to drive down prices as a result. Crude oil was going for about $29 a barrel when Congress approved the use-of-force resolution for Iraq in October 2002. It hit $73 a barrel earlier today.