06/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Texas Two Step

A week ago, John McCain was still a "maverick" -- a longhorn that no rancher owns because it hasn't been branded. Yesterday, he got lassoed by Big Oil, and today he was branded by the President with a big "W." (Since this is a family blog, we won't talk about the rest of what happens to a young steer when he gets the lariat around his feet at a roundup.)

McCain changed his tune yesterday, coming out for offshore oil drilling and against protecting our coasts. (In my blog yesterday, I inadvertently said "Cheney," which alert readers caught -- it was McCain who flip-flopped yesterday.) McCain then went on to try to create daylight between himself and the president, insisting that he has a very different approach to global warming and energy. But the big news in his speech was the cave-in to Big Oil on the coasts -- and today Bush made it abundantly clear that McCain has joined his camp by ratifying what both Cheney and McCain said in the past two days -- it's time to give the oil industry what it wants.

All of this, of course, will do nothing about the price of gas. By the time the outer continental shelf could be leased and brought into production, the whole world supply and demand picture will have been transformed for either better or worse -- and a few drops from fouling the beaches of Florida won't matter a tinker's damn. But we're not helpless. For one thing the oil industry has lots of leases it hasn't developed -- roughly 70 percent of its holdings in fact are not in production off the coast. More importantly, Americans have changed the cars they buy -- dramatically.

Sedans are taking the place of SUVs and pickups. That means that Americans are already starting to save dollars -- and gas. Because when someone buys a fuel-efficient vehicle instead of a gas hog, they save money two ways. They use less gas immediately -- a lot less. And they lower demand over time as the vehicle fleet becomes more efficient -- so the price goes down as well. It's a virtuous cycle, a very fast one taking only a few years, and it's already happening. Too bad Detroit and Bush didn't start it five years ago. Gasoline wouldn't be $4/gallon. And half of us would be driving fuel-sipping, not gas-guzzling, vehicles.