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Car Culture

Obama Dismisses Gas Tax “Gimmick”

10:58 AM PDT on May 1, 2008


With primaries in North Carolina and Indiana less than a week out, Barack Obama seems to have taken Streetsbloggers' advice with this ad explaining why a suspension of the federal gas tax, as called for by Hillary Clinton and John McCain (among others), is a sham. It's a masterful spot: the swelling orchestral score, the shots of everyday North Carolinians nodding in agreement as the candidate links the lie of the "short-term quick fix" gimmick to the need for fundamental change in Washington.

But Obama doesn't go all the way here. Though he does call for Americans to reduce fossil fuel consumption, he suggests doing it by raising efficiency standards, substituting oil with unspecified alternative fuels, and giving the middle class a $1,000 tax cut for good measure. The word "transit" never comes up no matter how many times you watch. Believe me.

On the trail, however, Obama is talking up passenger rail. After the jump, an excerpt from a Politico pool report filed after Obama and wife Michelle met with the Fischer family in Beech Grove, Indiana. Cheryl, 52, is a hospital technician. Mike, 53, is a machinist for Amtrak.

The Fischers consider themselves a "rail family," with generations of family members working at the same shop.

Mike Fischer, who is a member of the machinists union, explained his situation: He said Amtrak is planning to layoff 77 workers. He could be impacted. He could be given an option to take a job in Chicago or Wilmington, Del., which mean moving away from their children and grandchildren.

"What do they offer if you decided not to go?" Barack Obama asked.

"Unemployment," Mike Fischer said.

Barack Obama suggested the Fischers contact their members of Congress.

"You guys should talk to Evan Bayh to find out what the situation is," Barack Obama said. "The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking bout for awhile is high speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities - Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis. They are not that far away from each other. Because of how big of a hassle airlines are now. There are a lot of people if they had the choice, it takes you just about as much time if you had high speed rail to go the airport, park, take your shoes off."

He continued to talk up Amtrak.

"This is something that we should be talking about a lot more," Obama said. "We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don't have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn't have high speed rail. We just don't have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell."

So why not tell the story, Senator? Get Mike and Cheryl Fischer to talk about our country's rail heritage, and an entire industry left to rot as we subsidize foreign governments to keep Big Oil in windfall profits. Bring the music up as you tell the people how rail can again be the backbone of our nation's transportation system, creating thousands of jobs while building a cleaner, greener America. Now that would be some real truth.

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