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Both Sides: Watch the Track, Not the Horse Race: Gas, Health, Afghanistan

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This week Ron Reagan and Mary Matalin sharply though civilly debate three issues that may sway the 2012 elections because they seriously affect America's money, health and lives - dramatically rising pump prices, the judicial conclusion of the Affordable Care Act and Afghan war policy shaken by slaughter.

*On the Politics of Gas -- Pump Prices, Meet Chicken Little. What do rising gas prices mean politically? We hear President Obama a) mock a Fox reporter for implying that 44 wants higher prices and b) chide GOP candidates for "loose talk" on Iran that spooks markets and boosts prices.

Ron and Mary don't disagree on the causes of the recent 15% pump increase -- more demand from China, less nuclear from Japan, and war clouds over the Straits of Hormuz. But the consensus ends there. Mary chides the President and Democrats for shunning more domestic production: "your government reports that we have 200 years of safe hydrocarbons -- why would we turn away from known products for pie-in-the-sky approaches like wind and solar?"

Mr. Energy Alternatives jumps out of his skin: "Pie-in-the-sky?", he asks. "The sun powers the entire solar system! Years from now people will wonder why we raped the planet to enrich extractive industries. We need to get off fossil fuels as soon as we can." Although Steven Chu did seem to favor higher prices spurring more energy efficiency before being named Energy Secretary, Ron explains why world markets determine price, not American presidents, "not that people who don't know much will blame him anyway." That is, since only the incumbent is on the ballot and not oil companies, the President is economically exonerated but will probably be held politically culpable.

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It appears that Obama-Cameron will ok the release of some strategic petroleum reserves, which will have more symbolic than economic impact. Speaking of symbolic, isn't Newt Gingrich's $2.50 spiel just a political ploy? "No more than Obama's Solyandra-driven, ideological jihad has been" replies Mary.

*On 'Obamacare' in Court. Starting a week from today, the Supreme Court has set aside a near record six hours to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

The two review the pluses and minuses of the law, with Ron concluding that we should join the "rest of the civilized world" and not treat a necessity of life as a "commodity... It's a crazy concept that the sick are not allowed to get individual health insurance." Mary retorts, "not more crazy the big, fat, giant, ever-expanding, payoff-when-people give-their-contributions program [of Obama's]."

Justices Reagan and Matalin are reminded that the Court is not supposed to weigh whether they like the law -- that would be "judicial activism" -- but rather decide whether it's constitutionally permitted. We listen to audio of lawyers from both sides, ending with Fox's Judge Napolitano rhetorically wondering if it would be ok "if Congress requires everyone to wear a hat in the sun?" (Interjects the Host , "probably yes if it affected one-sixth of the economy" as health care does.]

Mary speculates that the mandate will be rejected and tossed back to Congress for a do-over and that the law's popularity will then determine what it ends up looking like. Ron thinks it should be and will be upheld because Congress can enact laws affecting constituents' health. "The issue is socialized medicine, if you will, versus privatized medicine because [some people] don't like to pay for care for that bum over there. But I have news for them -- since doctors must treat him in the emergency room, we pay for him anyway."

[Three conservative jurists will here get the last word: Judge Harvie Wilkinson III, a Reagan appointee sitting on the 4th Circuit for 28 years, writing in the New York Times, and Judge Laurence Silberman, appointed by Reagan, on the D. C. Circuit, and Judge Jeffrey Sutton, appointed to the 6th Circuit by Bush 43, both upheld the law enroute to the Supreme Court. Their collective view is that, whatever you think of the policy behind the law, it's clearly constitutional based on existing precedent because it substantially affects commerce under the Commerce and "Necessary and Proper" Clauses of the Constitution.

*On Afghan Policy after Burnings/Riots/Massacre - "The horror! The horror!" By late 2011, the public had soured on our decade-long participation in the Afghanistan war: since when did our mission become nation-building? in a counter-insurgency war to win "hearts and minds", aren't scandals involving Korans, desecrations and the marine's murder spree like losing major battles? $100+ billion annually with troops serving multiple deployments? at some point, don't we leave but the Taliban stay?

Question: should we expedite our exit from that war more quickly than 2014, as the Obama-NATO plan provides?

Role reversal! Mary lauds the President's eloquence in responding to the shooting and his resolve to stick to the current bi-partisan plan. Ron, on the other hand, sides with Newt Gingrich and Shepherd Smith who imply that, whatever our original motives, the mission is "undoable" and lacking support by a war-weary public. Mary ardently argues against leaving too suddenly because it would lead to "savagery." Ron pushes back: "it's been a long time -- Tora Bora in fact -- since we've had any excuse to stay in Afghanistan." Since President Karzai now wants the U. S. to withdraw from villages and into major bases, why would we stay? Because, responds Mary, otherwise "we would be morally responsible for the slaughter that followed...seen daily on TV."

*Quick Takes: Mass Hysteria. Goldman Sacked. Presidential Words. First, what are your views on that case of twitching, rashes and "mass hysteria" among teen girls in a small New York town? As a mother of two teen girls, Mary describes how she's personally seen social pathologies spread among anxious adolescents; Ron adds that, in this case, social media was a "force multiplier" in passing along the hysteria (For how social trends can metastasize, see generally Malcolm Gladwell in Tipping Point and Tina Fey's Mean Girls.)

Second, remember Tom Cruise's epic rant when he resigned his job from a sports agency in Jerry Maguire? What did you think of the public resignation of Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith in a New York Times op-ed that attacked the company for ripping off clients? Ron isn't surprised by the "rapacious capitalism" it exposes while Mary replies that the people at Goldman are moral and that "capitalism without virtue" will fail.

Consensus alert: they agree with the theme of Ezra Klein's provocative New Yorker piece that presidential speechmaking rarely affects legislative results. Yes, but. With both sides unsurprisingly invoking Dutch Reagan, they agree that a president's tone and eloquence can sway opinion more than legislation.

*On the Radar: Ron warns listeners to prepare for an ocean of bad puns and metaphors on April 15, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of The Titanic on its maiden voyage.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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