By proposing the gas tax holiday, an idea only a fool or an ignoramus could take seriously, Hillary Clinton has advertised to the world that she thinks her voters are easy marks. Some of them probably resent it, or could be encouraged to do so. And the same goes for John McCain in the general election: the press has already more or less announced that the idea is bogus.

Like most bloggers, journalists, and academics, I’ve been focusing on the contempt Hillary Clinton has displayed for the whole project of reasoned discourse about public policy by insisting that the gas tax holiday is a good idea even though she can’t find anyone knowledgeable to agree, or even explain herself how it’s supposed to work. I can forgive taking silly positions &#8212 no candidate can escape it entirely &#8212 but not deliberately making a silly position into a major campaign issue. On the gas tax, obliterating Iran, and now the empty threat to break up OPEC with a lawsuit, she has managed to look completely un-Presidential, negating her claim to policy expertise based on long experience.

But there’s another aspect of the story that hasn’t, so far as I know, gotten any attention: the contempt her actions display for her voters. By embracing an idea that only a fool or an ignoramus could actually believe, she has advertised to the world that she regards her voters as easy marks, children easily distracted by shiny objects.

I can imagine an independent-expenditure TV spot on this theme.

Overweight middle-aged man with a “mountain” accent, dressed in jeans, standing in front of a pickup truck with a gunrack and an American flag bumper sticker, looking straight at the camera:

Senator Clinton, you say that cutting the gasoline tax oil companies pay would save money for consumers. Everyone who knows the oil companies knows that’s not so. The companies don’t have to pass their savings along to us, and of course they won’t. You can’t find a single expert to say the idea would work. So why do you expect us to be dumb enough to believe it anyway?

Tell the truth, Senator, it makes me sorta angry. I don’t cotton to being played for a fool.

Senator, I didn’t go to Wellesley College or Yale Law School. I don’t have a fancy house or millions of dollars. I don’t have your experience in Washington. But let’s get one thing clear, Senator Clinton. I’m not stupid.

Now, do we understand each other? [Turns away in disgust.]

Footnote One bonus from this whole flap: the mainstream press has done to Sen. Clinton what it almost never does to a Republican candidate. It has made it clear that her plan is without merit. But of course at base the Clinton plan is the McCain plan; McCain had it first. So when Barack Obama comes at John McCain over this little bit of attempted bamboozlement, the press will already be committed to the narrative “truth-teller vs. bogus idea.” The above spot works just as well with Senator McCain’s name inserted, except that he has eight fancy houses, not just one, and you’d have to take out the elite education and add a rich wife.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: