Are voters this easily manipulated?

The United States Senate is filled with those who are either too stupid to understand basic economics, or with those too politically ambitious to care about the damage they cause with reckless threats and action.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he believes gas prices “would come down within a matter of days” if President Bush told oil companies that he was going to support a windfall profits tax.

“But the president will not call the oil companies into his office because he’s been too closely allied with those oil companies, and if he does it’s going to be a window-dressing conversation,” said Levin, who appeared with Specter on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Right, rising gas prices are a strict conspiracy by President Bush. Whether it’s political pressure driven by low poll numbers, a need to be leaderly, or stupidity, President Bush responded:

President Bush has asked the Energy and Justice departments to investigate whether gasoline prices have been illegally manipulated, he announced in a speech this morning.

The White House is also asking states to guard against unfair pricing.

Essentially President Bush offered every hack prosecutor an excuse to go after gas station owners to advance their political careers protect the public from the threat of supply and demand. Unfortunately the president is protecting himself, too:

The president also moved to temporarily halt deposits to the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve, making more oil available for consumer needs while seeking to ease prices at the pump.

The United States uses far too much oil every day for that to work. Not standing up to the idiocy of the fine folks in the Senate and delivering the hard truth to the masses will haunt President Bush, because when this move inevitably fails to reverse the laws of economics, Democrats will hammer him for it. They’ll be wrong, but they’ll have a cheap win.

At least Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino tempered expectations a little with this bit of logic:

“Nothing is going to be a magic wand that will lower gas prices overnight.”

No kidding. At some point some politician needs to have the guts to admit that price is only a measure of cost. Value is something else entirely. Our refusal to take mass transit and to stop buying SUVs shows that we value our current lifestyles more. It should be no surprise that prices increase with our demands, since short-term supply is less flexible. Reducing contributions to national oil reserves notwithstanding.

Still, Democrats are hammering Bush and his Republican colleagues for failing to come up with a strategy that would cut prices soon. They hope to harness voter anger over the trend and, by Election Day, turn it against the Republicans who control Congress.

And that’s why Democrats are no more qualified to govern than the Republicans they attack. But we knew that. The only new lesson is that Sen. Levin needs to remove his tinfoil hat and grow up.