Reacting to the Times, by David Lindsay 2/22/12
An article in the New York Times on 2/19 by Michael Shear was titled, “High Gas Prices give GOP Issue to Attack Obama.” It’s an excellent and disturbing story, and it brought out the novelist in me. I can just imagine the Republican leadership saying something like the following.
“Gas prices have crept up continually since the depths of the recession, so we will hammer Obama for being responsible for this increase which is damaging the recovery.”
GOP Associate: “That’s good. Of course, the real reason gas prices have almost doubled from $2 to $4 is that we are climbing out of a severe recession, world demand is increasing, and there is instability in Europe and the Middle East, especially with Iran and the threat of war over their nuclear bomb ambitions.” All the Republicans present laugh at the irony. They laugh because they hope Americans are not smart enough to see through their canard. Life isn’t a rose garden if your goal is to win the Rose Garden. If enough mud sticks to the President, he’ll lose the election.
According to Michael Shear, Rick Santorum said last week, “They (the Democrats) want higher energy prices.” They want to push their radical agenda on the public.” Santorum accused the Democrats of pushing alternatives to oil! Such trash talk raises a number of awkward questions. Are Americans so gullible as to believe such nonsense? Some of the obfuscation could easily work, if citizens fail to notice the bait and switch tactic. It is true that many environmentalists, economists and journalist, such as Thomas Friedman, and this writer, want the U.S. government under either party to raise taxes on gas or oil or carbon pollution, or possibly all three. However, such thinking didn’t cause the price of gas to rise over the last three years, and has huge benefits as well as costs. One example, most of Europe has some carbon tax that appears as about a $5.00 a gallon gas tax. The taxes raise oodles of money for some of the best public transportation systems in the world and other needs, while the roads are significantly less crowed.
Luk De Volder, the new rector of Trinity Church in New Haven, just recalled from the pulpit that the Yellow School buses here are very American. In Belgium, children return home from school using the public transportation system, on buses that run all day for the whole region. My take on this, their public transportation is so good that school buses are not regularly needed.
These Republican attacks are disappointing. Many environmentalists, traditionally of both parties, want to have what they see as a better national energy policy and reduce our dependence on oil, which is mostly foreign, polluting, oil from Arab dictatorships. Does such clear thinking by Obama make his administration somehow responsible for the 95% rise of gasoline prices in the last three years. No, this is a canard. It appears that the Republicans will do damage to the country’s economy and political discourse, to bring down Obama. The recent surge in prices has apparently been due primarily to an increase in world demand, political instability, and producers raising their prices. I wish the Republicans were pushing Obama for a carbon tax, to set a price floor, under which the price of oil could not fall, to support the fledgling alternative energy sources in solar, wind and geo-thermal. The country has serious challenges and opportunities and we need the Republicans to participate like serious members of the community, not desperate con artists- or canardists.
I looked up canard, which also means duck in French, and discovered at the Online Etymologic Dictionary that it might come from a long forgotten joke, from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié “to half-sell a duck”, which I would translate as, to sell only half the duck.
“Specifically, the term Canard refers to a tactic used by a parent duck to deceptively draw a predator away from its offspring or nest by quacking and feigning a broken wing. In other words the “Canard” or “Duck” is lying.” (Wiktionary) But there is more.
“The term “canard” comes from the Medieval French expression “Vendre des canard à moitié.” The meaning literally is “to sell the ducks by half.” It is actually the punch line to a joke. Eventually the punch line came to stand for the joke and then finally the word alone stood for the whole concept. The story is that a duck seller is successful and contented being the only duck seller on the street and he sells his ducks for eight francs each. A new duck seller moves in across the street who steals all the business by offering his ducks for seven francs each. Then a price war ensues, back and forth, until the new duck seller is down to three francs for a duck. The original duck seller is beside himself with worry and frustration, but finally he puts up a big sign that says, “Two francs” and then in small print at the bottom “for half a duck.” Thus, to sell the ducks by half meant to trick people with something that was literally true, but misleading. It has this same metaphorical meaning in French. Now in English, it simply means anything that is deliberately misleading, a fraud.” Wiktionary, Etymology.