The Gas Tax Issue

Senator Clinton has not run a flawless race this year but as Denver gets nearer, each mistake grows more critical. If one stands out in yesterday's results, it was not just proposing but pressing for a cut in the gas tax this last week. The idea suffered from so many flaws it is hard to imagine the conversations that led her advisors to propose it, let alone run ads on the issue.

First, John McCain had the idea first. While her addition of a windfall profits tax on the oil companies made sense enough, that was not enough to differentiate her version. In a race where Obama has been dying for chances to link her with Republicans, adopting one of McCain's ideas should have been strike one.

Strike two, neither she nor McCain will be President this summer. Voters want to hear what she will do as President after January 20, 2009.

Third, the idea was clearly bad policy, guaranteeing its universal panning by economists, energy analysts and pundits. No doubt her own policy staff probably argued that a tax cut will not relieve upward pressures on oil prices, will encourage more use of gas that may actually increase prices and undermines her strong message on global warming and energy security.

Strike four is that the controversy completely doused the firestorm around Senator Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Wright that was lifting her in the polls as recently as last Thursday.

Senator Obama will probably talk about this issue as long as he can. As for Senator Clinton, the episode should be a reminder that in a complex world, good policy is the truest signpost of good politics.