As Michele Bachmann’s presidential candidacy increasingly resembles a thing that is actually happening, we will probably see a surfeit of Meanwhile, Inside Michele Bachmann’s Heads. I’m basing this conjecture on the Palin Cycle, which taught us that I will lose interest in a given nutso church lady long after you guys have. I apologize in advance, both to you and to the panels before which people like me will undoubtedly be called should President Bachmann take office. You know she’s going to win, too, because she’s using a method time-honored by student council candidates across the nation: making promises about stuff she cannot control. Bachmann’s pledge to get the price of gas below $2 a gallon is the frozen yogurt machine in the cafeteria of national politics. Because she is more a bold visionary and less a person who connects her desires to specific actions, we don’t know Bachmann’s gas plan. But conveniently, Don Shelby over at MinnPost has compiled her options.
Most of them involve wrecking the economy or jeopardizing national security, but don’t worry—some of them break international law. Shelby notes that Bachmann’s pledge resembles one made by the late Donald Trump, who proposed nationalizing the oil fields of Libya and Iraq. Trump seemed not aware that A) gasoline does not come right out of the ground, B) the Iraqi people would love that and C) we do still kind of have a UN. Besides initiating a global resource war, President Bachmann could pursue her gas pledge along two likely avenues:
1) She could release the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. If you put all 727 million barrels in the SPR on the market simultaneously, the price of gas would probably plummet. OPEC would almost certainly reduce production in order to offset the surplus, though, and regardless the reserve oil would be consumed in about a month. That would be a pretty fun January 2013, but at the end of it we would no longer have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Ironically, that would have been the thing to get us through our conquest of Libya.
2) She could drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the coast of Florida, inside the Washington’s head part of Mount Rushmore, wherever. The ANWR would cover us for a year, which sounds good now but less so in 2014, when we’ve got no oil and no ANWR. The rest of the petroleum she’s looking at is shale-oil, extractable by a process so expensive that Exxon abandoned it. These are the same people who consider it cost-effective to drill for oil on the bottom of the ocean and then pour half of it out.
So like the government controlling 31% of our economy and her not benefiting from federal farm subsidies, $2 gas appears to be something Bachmann said because it sounded good. The question is, why? Not why did she say that—she’s either hideously cynical or regards herself as chosen by god to lie the American people back to righteousness, take your pick—but why did she think it would sound good? The response of experts and commentators has ranged from skepticism to disdain, and surely even she has somebody on her campaign bus to explain why. Of all the far-our campaign promises she could have chosen, why pick one that is so immediately and demonstrably nuts?
I submit that Bachmann is setting a cutoff at a certain level of news. Her original promise was a CNN-Fox-USA Today story, whereas the cascade of refutations came as below-the-fold commentary. The people who sort of look at the news but don’t follow it got “Bachmann $2 gas” flashed across their subconscious, and the people who follow politics more closely weren’t going to vote for her anyway. For the former group—I call them the This Damn Economy bloc—the price of gasoline is a perfect flashpoint. It affects their daily lives. They’re reminded once a week. Why doesn’t somebody do something about it?
So as usual with Bachmann, the scary part is not so much the woman herself as whether her cynical calculations are actually true. She’s the Keeping Up With the Kardashians of American politics: the show is not interesting, but the fact that it has an audience is terrifying and weirdly fascinating. One keeps trying to engage Michele Bachmann within some matrix of reasoning, and the argument keeps narrowing down to “if this person gets elected…”