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McCain on Gas Prices: ‘I Don’t See How it Matters’ (Corrected)

In a recent interview with the Orange County Register‘s Martin Wisckol, John McCain said that, not only doesn’t he know how much gas costs, it doesn’t matter. (Tangentially related: “Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” was an excellent album title. The album itself was so-so.)

When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?

Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters.

I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of town hall meetings, many as short a time ago as yesterday. I communicate with the people and they communicate with me very effectively.

Well, apparently not. The price of gas is the number one issue on the minds of just about every voter these days. It’s an issue that virtually transcends class. Most of us know, to the penny, what we’re paying for gas and where the cheapest gas is in our area. (Both my wife’s car and mine require high octane gasoline. The station where I generally buy has been stuck at $4.32 for quite some time now. Prices vary radically from block to block, with some charging as much as $4.65.)

I get that McCain is sheltered from many of the mundane details of everyday life because of his position. It wouldn’t bother me in the least if he didn’t know how to operate a modern gas pump. Nor would I expect him to know the price with the specificity that those of us who pump it regularly do. But, given the amazing amount of attention this issue has gotten in recent months — so much so that he’s pandering about “gas tax holidays” and the like — it’s not unreasonable to expect him to answer with something like, “It’s been so long since I pumped my own gas that I don’t remember what it cost. But I do know that it’s now over $4 a gallon and people are pissed.”

As an aside, this is one of those incidents that, absent the blogosphere, would probably have escaped people’s attention. Even apart from the interview being originally published on Wisckol’s blog, it didn’t get any notice until it got picked up elsewhere and started spreading.

UPDATE: Patrick Frey points out that John McCain knew the price of gas four days before the interview quoted above:

“The price of a gallon of gas in America stands at more than four dollars. Yesterday, a barrel of oil cost about 134 dollars” said McCain. “And various oil ministers and investment firms have confidently informed us that soon we can expect to pay 200 dollars for every barrel, and as much as seven dollars for every gallon of gas.”

It stands to reason, then, that McCain knew the price at the time of the interview. It would seem, then, that he’s guilty merely of giving an irritated and dismissive answer to what he perceived as a “gotcha” question rather than being out of touch. He’d have been far better off, however, giving the answer I suggested above.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. [...] Via Outside the Beltway, I see that John McCain does not know the price of gas. Take it away, James: [...]

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  2. [...] can save a lot of space in this piece by simply letting James Joyner say what I was already thinking. I get that McCain is sheltered from many of the mundane details of [...]

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  3. Mark Jaquith says:

    Sounds to me that “I don’t think it matters” refers to the last time he pumped his own gas, not indifference to gas prices. He’s saying that he doesn’t have to actually physically pump his own gas to be aware of prices or to be aware that people are feeling the pinch.

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  4. Bill H says:

    Yeah, this is going to be used to quote him as saying the the price of gas doesn’t matter. I agree with Mark that he was saying that he doesn’t have to pump gas to know what it costs, and I happen to agree with that. May be the first thing that McCain has said in months that I’ve agreed with.

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  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Context. Non issue.

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  6. Hal says:

    As an aside, this is one of those incidents that, absent the blogosphere, would probably have escaped people’s attention.

    Um, really? I know you’re old enough to remember the George Bush incident with the supermarket scanners, or Dukakis’ tank incident. Seems to me, this kind of slip up is precisely the kind of thing the press are looking for and blogosphere or not, it would not have escaped people’s attention.

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  7. tom p says:

    James, I have heard from a # of people who know far more about vehicles than I (professionals) that there is no way you should need to use high octane gas “no matter what you drive”.

    While that kind of blanket statement always makes me a little uncomfortable (no exceptions anywhere?) maybe you just need a tune-up?

    Also, a guy I work with told me of “K&N” lifetime air filters. He said it boosted his gas mileage by 4-5 mpg. I changed mine and only got a 1-2 mpg boost.

    But every little bit helps.

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  8. Anderson says:

    Agree with Mark Jaquith — he referred to the self-pumping (as it were), not to the price of gas.

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  9. Eneils Bailey says:

    John McCain said that, not only doesn’t he know how much gas costs, it doesn’t matter.

    Why did he say that, if it is an actual quote?
    Because most Republicans over the last 8 to 12 years have gone to Washington and care more about awakening and reading about what the WAPO or NYT thinks about them more than what the folks back home who elected them.

    I have been a faithful, loyal, dedicated American all my life. A conservative, which usually led me to vote for Republicans. But, fecal dribble such as this, leaves a Conservative just stunned, uninspired, and unwilling to pick up and shake the Republican pom-poms.

    Here, we have a person, running against the most liberal, most socialistic, most inexperienced candidate ever to run on a nation-wide ticket and he just can’t pull it off.

    A Maverick, well, I guess so, but you are going to lose this hand of political poker.

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  10. Floyd says:

    Shame on the fabricator of that deceptive Headline!

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  11. just me says:

    I agree that he seems to be referring more to when he pumped gas not mattering.

    His reference to town hall meetings seems to indicate that he is aware that it is a concenr not that it isn’t a concern to the attendees.

    And for him he is probably right-when or even knowing how much it is to the penny doesn’t matter a lot, if he knows it is a problem and is trying to come up with a plan to deal with it.

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  12. [...] it does matter, and as James Joyner points out… The price of gas is the number one issue on the minds of just about every voter these days. It’s [...]

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  13. James says:

    Yea I agree he meant it doesn’t matter if he pumped his own gas. He is aware of the situation because of attending town hall meetings. But I see this being spun in so many ways by the leftist media outlets it will be unreal.

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  14. [...] what McCain’s saying in effect here, isn’t it? In a recent interview with the Orange County Register’s Martin Wisckol, John [...]

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  15. DL says:

    They should have asked him that question in pesoes he’d know the answer.

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  16. The details says:

    I’m not at all surprised that this site and no doubt many others linking to this article are concentrating on the cheap trick and ignoring the utter lameness of the interviewer’s other questions. Details at the link. Perhaps encouraging better interviewers would be the better long-term choice.

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  17. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    His opponent is sorry the price rose so quickly, but thinks it is a good thing. Comes down to who has a better idea, not a game of got ya. McCain is for drilling, not to the extent he should be, but the other guy wants to increase taxes on oil companies, which filter down to those who pay the price at the pump. Obama is a socialist elite who thinks the common people have way to much liberty as it is. The change he has in mind is not one most of us would like.

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  18. Michael says:

    (Off-Topic)

    I have heard from a # of people who know far more about vehicles than I (professionals) that there is no way you should need to use high octane gas “no matter what you drive”.

    Some engines, especially high-performance engines, use a higher cylinder compression than standard car engines. In these engines, the low-octane fuel may self-combust from the heat of compression while the piston is in the up-stroke, before the spark-plug fires, causing engine “knocking”. Your “professional” friends should know that.

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  19. Bithead says:

    James; As I told Joe Gandelman

    When was the last time you pumped gas where the price hadn’t changed rather dramatically from the day before? I went on an 800 mile run yesterday, and as I drove back past the same gas stations I drove past going out, the prices had changed less than 12 hours later! Threw my cost estimates for the run, off by several dollars. Who’s supposed to keep up with this, even when you drive quite a bit?

    There’s this, too; Most of that change has been within the last year, the period during which McCain has been living out of a jet, doing stump speeches and the like. In short, McCain doesn’t drive much at all of late, nor would anyone else running for high elective office just now.

    Obama, just as an offhanded example:

    How about asking that question of Obama, the guy so disconnected from the weight of gas prices he thinks we’re not paying enough?

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  20. [...] as I have no idea how much my wife spends on groceries. The price of gas is a different matter. As James Joyner wrote, “The price of gas is the number one issue on the minds of just about every voter these [...]

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  21. Bithead says:

    I have heard from a # of people who know far more about vehicles than I (professionals) that there is no way you should need to use high octane gas “no matter what you drive”.

    Michael has this one right. It depends on your application. Some cars require it. Others, like the Astro I had a year back, now, had, in its’ stock engine control module, code which adjusted for the added octane providing both better HP and Torque, as well as better MPG. Rana few degrees cooler, as well, while towing. Very important on those hot summer days. For running arounbd town, or in the winter, it didn’t matter nearly as much.

    And some, like my Raiier have a reprogamming feature, that will manually adjust the timing to allow for the fuel. Tell it what octaine fuel you’re running, and it adjusts the inition, and valve timing, flow rates and whatnot. Adds around 60hp, and usually around 2mpg for over the road.

    In the latter two situations, it comes down to the percentage of MPG increase, vs the percentage of price difference at the pump costs.

    Years ago, there used to be a 10cent difference for the higher octane. Given the lower per gallon costs, that came close to breaking even on the cost per gallon, but not quite. So, I only went higher octane for those situations that called for it; Trailering, etc.

    These days it’s ~ 20 cents difference, so the math says premium is a lower cost difference, as a percentage of the overall costs. The math works out that Premium is the better deal for my applications, given the current situation. Figure; If the difference in MPG overcomes the difference in costs, to total; at a lower cost per mile, guess which way I go?

    That said, most cars won’t get enough difference to worry about, and thereby likely are not going to be worth the added money. And then, too, the only way to figure this stuff out is long experience and rather tight record keeping with your vehicle, so you’ve got a tool to measure such performance differences.

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  22. od says:

    I think he meant it didn’t matter when the last time he pumped his own gas was, so long as he talks with people and knows their concerns. Which seems reasonable enough to me.

    The fact is, anyone who makes it to become a presidential nominee (or even a serious runner for a party’s candidate) is a card carrying member of the elite – its pointless to think otherwise. None of the serious contenders for the job live a life that is similar to that of most of the voters, at least in financial/work related issues. The best you can ask is that they listen to voters’ concerns.

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  23. Patterico says:

    McCain knows the price of gas, as I prove here. There is an article from 6 days before the Think Progress post in which McCain says that gas is over 4 dollars a gallon. Think Progress simply lied about this, and James fell for it.

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  24. Patterico says:

    To his credit, though, he has issued an immediate correction.

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  25. NORMAN TIETS says:

    KNOW THE FACTS BEFORE EDITORALIZING — ANY IDIOT WOULD KNOW EXACTLY WHAT MCCAIN WAS REFERING TO, IF THEY WEREN’T IN SUCH HURRY TO STOMP ON HIM. IF OBAMA HAD SAID WHAT MCCAIN DID SAY THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY COMMENTS AT ALL.

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  26. teqjack says:

    He answered the first part of a two-part question. About the second part, I don’t remember what it cost the last time I pumped my own, seven months ago, which does not stop me from knowing it is now about forty percent more and would really hurt if I still owned a car.

    I seem to remember the same thing happening with *spit* OHB *spit spit* a while back. Two-part question, answer one part and miss the second part, oops.

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  27. teqjack says:

    He answered the first part of a two-part question. About the second part, I don’t remember what it cost the last time I pumped my own, seven months ago, which does not stop me from knowing it is now about forty percent more and would really hurt if I still owned a car.

    I seem to remember the same thing happening with *spit* OHB *spit spit* a while back. Two-part question, answer one part and miss the second part, oops.

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  28. [...] See also: James Joyner. [...]

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  29. [...] as well as many other lefties, such as the Huffington Post and Balloon Juice, and even some of those on the right (at least originally), bought in to the line of thinking that McCain is divorced from reality, and [...]

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  30. Tony says:

    Yes, the gas prices are one of the more important things to the voter right now. But no, the president won’t be able to drop gas back down to $0.87.

    It’s going to take us a while, but eventually we’ll realize that high gas prices are here to stay. We can blame the government, or at least yell at them and tell them to fix it, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

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  31. Bithead says:

    Tony: Nobody’s seriously under the illustion of 87 cents, Tony, but the enviro-whackjob fantasy of $5.00 gas isn’t going to be going on for long if it happens at all, either. And yes, we can lower the prices by eliminating the foolish stuff we’ve been doing, in the supposed name of the ‘environment’… For one thing, increasing domestic supply.

    Norman: I’m not sure I’m ready to blast James on this one. He certainly doesn’t have the same habit as one blog leveled a flamethrower at yesterday on their reaction. As an example of that difference, I’ve yet to see a correction run at that other place.

    That said, it seems to me that the whole meme was designed to give Obama a talking point, and avoding hs own bass-ackward stand on the issue… namely he’s firmly convinced we’re not paying enough. I look to McCain to come out swinging on this over the 4th.

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  32. Michael says:

    It’s funny that James, someone who’s been advocating for McCain since back when everyone thought his campaign was dead, can in any way be considered as pro-Obama. That’s some party you guys have got going over there on the right.

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  33. James Joyner says:

    It’s funny that James, someone who’s been advocating for McCain since back when everyone thought his campaign was dead, can in any way be considered as pro-Obama. That’s some party you guys have got going over there on the right.

    It’s the era of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” I guess.

    Indeed, the idea that Think Progress, which quoted the whole passage and linked to the source, was “lying” on this one is bizarre. McCain gave a really poor answer to this question and it’s hardly unreasonable to point that out.

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  34. Michael says:

    It’s the era of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” I guess.

    Only you are with them. So I guess it’s more a case of “If you’re not as loud as we are, you’re against us”.

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  35. harkin says:

    Nice correction/apology…..NOT

    Not only do you only make a half-hearted attempt at correction, you blame McCain for your mistake (‘the answer he should have given’)

    It’s funny watching the netroots turn this from an example of their own lack of reporting skills to a spin on McCain’s irritability.

    Pwned

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  36. Sue says:

    Hmmmm…..

    So, does John McCain know the cost of a gallon of gas in America? Yes, he does. Here’s a news story from June 18:

    “The price of a gallon of gas in America stands at more than four dollars. Yesterday, a barrel of oil cost about 134 dollarsm” said McCain.

    Will truth matter? Yes, according to Patterico who I thank for the quote.

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  37. Michael says:

    Will truth matter? Yes, according to Patterico who I thank for the quote.

    You mean the same Pattrico who posted the above quote right here yesterday, whom James credited in his correction update in the post itself?

    Really, what did you add?

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  38. Talk about a misleading headline. What a waste of time.

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  39. James Joyner says:

    Only you are with them. So I guess it’s more a case of “If you’re not as loud as we are, you’re against us”.

    Ah, but only one hundred percent loyalty will be tolerated. It’s truly bizarre. Not just a phenomenon of the right, of course, given the vociferousness of the Netroots on some issues, but most unproductive.

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  40. Michael says:

    Ah, but only one hundred percent loyalty will be tolerated. It’s truly bizarre.

    Again through, your loyalty still seemed 100% behind McCain, I think it was your enthusiasm that they found lacking.

    It’s truly bizarre. Not just a phenomenon of the right, of course, given the vociferousness of the Netroots on some issues, but most unproductive.

    True, but I’m not sure I’ve ever see a case where people equate being critical of the statement choice of the candidate you have openly supported for over a year with being an enthusiastic proponent of the other candidate.

    I guess, though, it’s really no different than the “If you question our tactics, then you must want the terrorists to win” meme that’s been cultivated all too well in the right blogosphere.

    At least people who question Obama’s campaign are only labeled racists, it seems that anyone who questions McCain’s is labeled an Obama supporter.

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  41. just me says:

    McCain gave a really poor answer to this question and it’s hardly unreasonable to point that out.

    I think this is a reasonable opinion.

    I think it was mostly clear that McCain was answering the “when did you last pump gas question and how much did it cost?” with an “I don’t remember, and the price then doesn’t matter” answer I think he was right on that score-pumping your own gas isn’t really relevant.

    I also think how much it was then doesn’t matter-he just would have been better to have tagged the actual current cost of gas onto the question.

    But Obama gets an “He is tired” excuse for 99% of his gaffs, McCain should get them too on occassion.

    I can go for a “he should have given a better answer” criticism, but that isn’t what the headline was about.

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  42. Michael says:

    But Obama gets an “He is tired” excuse for 99% of his gaffs, McCain should get them too on occassion.

    I’m pretty sure the McCain camp would rather deal with a “He’s out of touch” meme than a “He’s too tired” meme which would once again bring up the age issue.

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