One sign that the Democrats are getting increasingly concerned about their potential losses in the upcoming midterm elections is that they're frantically trying to find ways to, at least temporarily, deal with the soaring price of gasoline. The president's decision to further deplete the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a prime example, but it isn't the only one. Here are a few others:
California deserves its own special mention here. Golden State governor Gavin Newsom recently unveiled an $11 billion relief package in the hopes of combating the state's highest-in-the-nation gas prices. The average price in California recently hit $5.88 per gallon, though it has passed the $6 mark in many areas. As the Wall Street Journal notes dryly, "Gasoline prices in California are often higher than in other states due to higher fuel taxes and stricter regulations." No kidding. More than $1 billion of the Newsom proposal comes from the gas tax reduction.
The biggest chunk of money, however, is allocated to issuing $400 debit cards for all registered vehicle owners (with a two-car maximum). Unlike the Chicago gas card plan mentioned above, which is directed towards middle and lower income residents, Newsom's plan has no income cap. Neither is it targeted towards the owners of gas-powered cars. Electric vehicle owners are also eligible. For some reason. The cost: a cool $9 billion. Newsom also called for $750 million to be spent on free (at the point of service) public transportation for three months and, this writer's personal favorite, $500 million to "promote biking and walking."
Now, all of these plans are expensive workarounds which ignore more straightforward solutions. They're also transparently self-serving, temporary in nature, and of questionable efficacy -- as Jinjoo Lee recently argued, the degree to which these temporary cuts "translate to lower pump prices partly depends on the size of the market and how strained a region’s refining system is." Still, as vacation season approaches and the war in Ukraine drags on, it is better than nothing.
And, more important, it is a refreshing sign of politicians' accountability to the voters. To see the opposite response, here's Steven Guilbeault, former Greenpeace activist, and (God help us) Canada's current Environment Minister, explaining his opposition to proposed fuel taxes in that country. He said, "All of these crises will go, but climate change will still be there, and climate change is killing people." Guilbeault's party just made a deal that keeps them in power until 2025. He's not accountable to anyone.
What a difference a few days can make. It was only the other day that President Biden spoke to the nation in what was billed as a press conference devoted to Covid-19 and vaccinations. After staring blankly into the teleprompter for eleven minutes and delivering his scripted remarks, the president inexplicably shuffled from the podium without taking any questions from, you know, the press. Bizarre as this was, it was made slightly less so by the fact that he had declined to answer questions in a similar setting the previous day, where he spoke about what at the time was the still-nascent debacle in Afghanistan.
The Covid-19 speech was plainly a ham-fisted attempt at misdirection, intended to divert the nation’s attention from what was merely an international embarrassment but has since become a literal bloody mess, with some 13 American servicemen and scores of Afghans killed in suicide bombings near the Kabul airport. Late last week, the president held another press conference, this one devoted to the events in Afghanistan, and as bland and affectless as he was in his appearances earlier in the week, when compared to Thursday’s performance he was Henry V at Agincourt.
In his address on Thursday, the president appeared confused, weak, and detached, as though still in denial that his own decisions have led to all that has recently transpired in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan. Even as he answered a question from Fox News reporter Peter Doocy about his role in the Afghan debacle, the president deflected responsibility onto his predecessor.
“I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late,” the president said, then he predictably resorted to one of the most tiresome of all his tiresome tropes. “But here’s the deal,” he continued, “you know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban.” He then attempted to engage Doocy in some kind of bastardized version of a Socratic dialogue, the intent of which was to establish that he, fundamentally, bears no responsibility for the loss of life after all.
The disorder in Afghanistan is only the latest example of what happens when utopian visions come into violent collision with reality. From the comfort and safety of the White House (or Camp David, or his basement in Wilmington, or wherever), President Biden can claim the best of intentions, the mere invocation of which, he believes, absolves him of any responsibility for the consequences wrought by his decisions. As is always the case with leftist utopians, the costs are borne elsewhere and by others.
It is not only in Afghanistan that we see evidence of this. The product of poor leadership is evident in many American cities, most especially those where defund-the-police movements have taken root within local government. In Los Angeles, where the entire municipal government and the management of the LAPD have kowtowed to the police-are-the-problem mob, murders have increased 24 percent over last year and 44 percent over 2019.
And in Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears to have lost whatever minimal grip on reality she might have once had, murders are up 5 percent over last year, which may not sound all that dire until you recall that 2020 saw a huge spike in murders from the previous year.
The daily carnage in places like Los Angeles and Chicago, in which the bodies stack up incrementally, may lack the punch-to-the-stomach impact of a suicide bombing that claims dozens in an instant, and while some may think it unfair to compare the killers who stalk our city streets to jihadis waging war in foreign lands, can those jihadis be said to be any more depraved than the gunmen who, two weeks ago in Chicago, shot two little girls as they sat in their car seats in their parents’ car?
Like the jihadis in Afghanistan, those gunmen in Chicago pay little heed to the platitudes pouring forth from politicians insulated from the costs of their poor leadership. They want what they want and they do what they do because they have no fear of the consequences.
It wasn’t so long ago that no foreign leader would consider aggression on a neighboring country without first considering the question, “How will the Americans respond?” Not even some tin-pot dictator in the most backwater third-world hellhole would make an adventurous move without weighing the risk of seeing U.S. Army paratroopers filling the skies, Marines swarming ashore on the beach, or an Air Force JDAM whistling down the palace chimney.
Today, if our adversaries even bother to ask how the Americans will respond, the answer they arrive at is, “They won't.” No more than Lori Lightfoot does, or Bill de Blasio in New York City or Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles.
Our president displays weakness, which in its turn invites challenge. It should surprise no one that Afghanistan is once again under the control of the same sandal-clad barbarians we routed from power 20 years ago, and it remains to be seen which of our adversaries will be next to take advantage.
There is comfort to be found in self-delusion, especially when your delusion is shared among so many of your friends and admirers. Consider Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago, the gutters of which are awash with the blood of shooting victims. As of this writing, 2,386 people have been shot and 434 murdered this year in the city, an average of twelve shooting victims and two murder victims every day.
The violence is for the most part is confined to neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides, but even residents in neighborhoods once considered safe are now dodging bullets. On Wednesday night, eight people were wounded when gunmen shot up a party bus in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood near Lincoln Park. It was the city’s third shooting with at least five victims in a six-hour period. A 15-year-old boy was killed in one of them. Thirteen more people were shot on Thursday, one of them fatally.
Mayor Lightfoot consoles herself with the fantasy that this daily display of violence can be attributed to the Covid pandemic, which she claims has impinged on the criminal courts’ ability to keep lawbreakers in check. Anyone who doesn’t share the mayor’s desperation to believe this nonsense should read the refutation of the claim by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Like so many others in politics, academia, and the media, Mayor Lightfoot entertains this fantasy because she cannot publicly admit the uncomfortable truth about crime, which is that there are neighborhoods in Chicago, as there are in every large American city, where the only restraint on criminal predation is the presence of police officers able and willing to intervene in it.
For the past several years, most especially since the death of George Floyd last year, the American left, to include Mayor Lightfoot, has busied itself delegitimizing the police, portraying them as contributors to, not solvers of crime. This has motivated veteran officers to retire earlier than they might have, younger ones to leave the profession, and left those who remain on the job so dispirited as to be reluctant to engage in the type of proactive police work proven to reduce crime.
Consider the map above, taken from the Chicago Tribune’s website, on which each of this year’s murder victim is represented by a blue dot. The map resembles nothing so much as a petri dish choked with poisonous spores, with more being added every day. Viewed in this way, it’s easy to see the city’s murder problem as an abstraction, especially if one lives in a neighborhood where the dots are few or absent altogether. Putting aside any demographic patterns that might be inferred from the arrangement of the dots, suffice it to say that those neighborhoods where they are most heavily concentrated are those where the city’s social and moral fabric are most conspicuously frayed, and where effective police work should be most readily welcomed and encouraged.
Each of those dots represents someone who, until he was struck down (in most cases by gunfire) was going about his business with no idea what was about to befall him. And, almost as important as the lives taken, each of those dots is like a pebble plunked in a pond, with the ripples of anguish and sadness radiating out to the dozens of people who knew the victim and the thousands of others who every day live with the sound of gunshots and the specter of bloodstained sidewalks and fluttering strands of crime-scene tape in their neighborhoods.
For every shooting victim there is of course at least one shooter, someone who woke up in the morning and had his breakfast before venturing out carrying the gun he would use to deadly effect later on. He was unafraid of carrying that gun because he had, perhaps deliberately, perhaps inchoately, calculated the risks of doing so and found them acceptable.
They are acceptable to him because many if not most of the cops who patrol his neighborhood have similarly calculated the risks of stopping him and found them prohibitive. A good cop working any neighborhood comes to discern the good people from the bad, the pilgrims from the predators, if you will, the latter of whom can be divided into the dope dealers, the burglars, the robbers, and the shooters. And even when observing people he doesn’t recognize, the good cop can detect, through subtle cues in body language, those who are likely to be carrying a gun.
When he sees such a person the cop has a choice to make. He can pretend he hasn’t seen what he sees and drive on, or he can try to stop the man. The cop knows that if he tries to make the stop it can turn out in only a few ways, the first and least likely of which is that the man will put up his hands and say, “You got me, officer. I’ve got a gun, take me to jail.”
Failing this, the man may run and try to ditch the gun on the fly, or he may hold on to it while he flees, hoping to reach a safe place before the cop can catch up to him. Or – and this is where the risk assessment comes into play – the man may try to fight with or even shoot the officer in an effort to escape.
If he is both skilled and lucky, the cop will win the fight or shoot before being shot. But even if he comes through physically unscathed he very likely will be thrust into a multi-year legal ordeal during which he, the cop, will be portrayed as a villain while the man he has vanquished, no matter how lengthy his rap sheet, no matter how contemptible his past, will be canonized into the litany of secular saints and remembered as “kind” and “generous” despite all evidence to the contrary, and who will be described as a “good father” when in most cases it would be more accurate to say he was merely a prolific one.
This is the world of Chicago’s cops, and of those in most other cities in the country. Until that changes, until politicians like Lori Lightfoot can admit the truth about what ails their cities, the bodies will continue to stack up in the morgues. In the meantime, Lightfoot and her ilk will cling to the belief that it is the pandemic that is responsible for all their cities’ woes, and that all will be well if we can just get enough people vaccinated.
Yes, there is a perverse comfort in self-delusion. Alas, there is no vaccine for it.