Gas prices have just gone up for the 33rd day in a row. This would be terrible news for the recovery, but luckily in last week's State of the Union address, President Obama discovered the power to bend time with words, and used it to increase everyone's mileage.
In case you missed it, he announced:
"We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas." (applause)
So problem solved, right?
Well, it is and it isn't, depending on what your definition of "will" is. It hinges on whether you thought the president was using "will" to express capacity -- as in "She'll do 0-60 in five seconds flat"; you know, the way most humans use "will" when talking about a car -- or whether you figured out that he was using "will" as an expression of expectation. As in "someday my prince will come."
Don't beat yourself up. He didn't want to be understood.
A perfectly valid and grammatically accurate reading of Obama's announcement could be:
"In general, American cars now go twice as far on a gallon of gas as they used to."
...like Obama invented a miracle fuel additive, or as a nation we've cut down on jackrabbity stops and starts.
You could even read it as:
"The car in your driveway now gets twice the mileage it did under Bush."
...like Bush borrowed it and forgot to release the parking break, which sounds like the kind of thing he'd do.
But neither of those are what Obama meant at all. What he meant was:
"We have doubled the distance that new cars will someday go on a gallon of gas."
And that someday is 2025.
As of today, we haven't actually changed anything except the rules -- the Corporate Average Fuel Economy minimums -- and those rules won't even start to take effect for another four years. So not only is Obama taking credit for something that won't happen until after he leaves office, but he's also comparing two things that only exist in theory: the cars we used to see ourselves driving in the future (when we're older and we need them to impress chicks) and the cars we now imagine ourselves driving in the future. When we're using them to elude drones.
And I suppose that's still something, but it's not really something.
The other big thing Obama did in the State of Union was say he'd like Congress to slowly raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour by 2015. Of course, if the minimum wage kept pace with inflation it would already be $10.56. So this goal fits pretty neatly with the president's multiverse mileage achievement, and the sacred creed of the Obama apologist:
Glacial change that won't begin for years is better than nothing.
Which brings me to something Obama didn't address: the single most accurate measure of American liberty: S/W FI. The Springsteen/Wilson Freedom Index.
(As any classic rock song can tell you, freedom is measured by how far you can drive on the wages from a shitty job. I think George Steiner said that, and if he didn't, he said the American dimension was space, not time, and that's sort of the same thing. Freedom equals tooling around. This is also the truth behind that On the Road movie that was in all the magazines, and then no one saw it because it looked like such a god-awful snooze.)
We calculate S/W FI by taking the hourly minimum wage, divided by the consumer-cost of a gallon of gasoline, multiplied by the fuel efficiency of the average car, which has been 20 MPG, more or less, since the Beach Boys recorded Little Deuce Coupe.
The president talked about mileage and the minimum wage, but he didn't connect the two, probably because his current S/W FI score is lousy. Almost as bad as Bush. Who had the worst S/W FI score of all time. Look:
The Springsteen/Wilson Freedom Index
Minimum Wage (in miles)
1964 83.2 miles
1968 94 miles
1972 88.8 miles
1976 77.8 miles
1980 50.8 miles
1984 51.6 miles
1988 69.6 miles
1992 71.4 miles
1996 69.2 miles
2000 66 miles
2004 53.6 miles
2007 33.6 miles
How does Obama compare? Right now, the minimum wage is $7.25. Gas costs $3.73 a gallon. Cars still get 20 MPG, more or less, so the S/W FI is 38.8 miles.
That's not as bad as it was the year before Obama was elected, but it's pretty miserable.
It's lower than it was when Carter left office.
On the other hand, if the minimum wage goes up to $9.00, and CAFE standards go up to 54.5 MPG, and gas prices just stay the same, by 2025 the S/W FI will be 131.5!
So, when you think about it, if Obama can take credit for things he only hopes will happen, he can already say he's quadrupled the amount of fun, fun, fun we'll have.
And, like Brian Wilson says, if you own a little deuce coupe, she'll walk a Thunderbird like it's standing still and she'll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored.
But it'll depend on what "she'll" means.