Brad DeLong is right: Democrats are for high gasoline prices on environmental grounds, except when gasoline prices are high. Republicans are for an unfettered market, except when gasoline prices are high.
He might have added that both parties are strongly committed to ending America’s dependence on foreign oil, and will do anything to solve that problem except the one thing that would actually work: increasing the price of gasoline at the pump.
High gasoline prices are a disaster for the party in power, and for the party out of power unless it seems to oppose them. That’s unfortunate, since high gasoline prices are good for conservation, good for fighting suburban sprawl, and good for the development of alternative technologies, but it’s the case. The best we can hope for is that the two parties tacitly agree to restrict their opposition to high prices to posturing, rather than trying to do anything about them. (Yes, I’d love to see some California refinery executives go to jail for collusive supply-limitation arrangements, but that’s on grounds of justice and distribution, not economic efficiency.)
On the other hand, when prices are high, oil producers don’t need the vast array of tax breaks they manged to wheedle and bribe for themselves when prices were low. In the face of a huge deficit, getting rid of those breaks is among the politically painless and economically harmless ways of raising revenue.
Of course, that leaves out of the picture the urgent need to stop sending ten of billions of dollars a year to places where some of it is sure to be used to support terrorism and the acquisition of nuclear weapons. If we had a wartime President, he would have used 9-11 to tell the nation that importing oil means trading with the enemy, and slammed on huge excise taxes on petroleum consumption, most of which would have wound up, in the long run, coming out of the pockets of the owners of petroleum in the ground.
But instead we have George W. Bush, and the one moment where drastic action might have been politically possible was lost.