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Unseemly blame-shifting on rising gasoline prices

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One of the tightropes politicians walk is finding ways to take credit for things that go right, while blaming opponents for things that go wrong.
And before I go any further, let me acknowledge upfront that this time-honored tradition isn’t specific to either political party.
But President Barack Obama and his re-election campaign organization have stretched their credibility pretty thin with their recent attempt to pin the blame for rising gas prices on the tea party movement.
You read that right. In a carefully worded, politically crafted e-mail message designed to place responsibility for high gas prices on his political opponents, the Obama campaign said the tea party movement was financed by oil companies “whose business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump.” The widely disseminated e-mail specifically named the Koch Industries Oil Co., whose owners have been critical of the president.
Certainly, there are many factors at play when it comes to gas prices – including events in the Middle East.
But here at home, it is – ironically – the president, whose policies most impact oil and gas prices. And it was the president who, in January, denied a construction permit for the Keystone pipeline, a 1,700-mile oil pipeline that would have transported oil from Canada to the United States – making the United States more energy-independent. Experts believe this would also bring down the cost of gasoline for our nation.
It’s also worth mentioning that, even while decrying high gas prices, the president has resisted widespread calls to issue more offshore drilling permits or reduce federal regulations that hinder energy production – both measures that would likely result in lower prices at the pump.
Come to think of it, has the president even put forward his own plan to reduce oil prices? After a 15-minute Internet search, I can’t find one.
As I read a news account of the Obama campaign’s e-mail, I couldn’t help but think about how low the level of debate in this country has sunk. It’s one thing to blame other politicians – or the opposing party – when things go wrong. And it certainly would be nothing new for our current president to implicate his predecessor for America’s problems. But in this case, the Obama campaign was hoping to blame private citizens – not government officials, but ordinary, everyday folks – for the nation’s ills.
And that’s a shame.
The attempt to link the high gas prices to the tea party movement was distasteful, and it underscored one of the problems with politics today: Sometimes, it’s easier to finger-point than to accept responsibility. Sometimes, it’s more politically expedient to criticize others than to engage in an honest, civil discourse about the issues.
Three years ago, the president campaigned on a platform of hope and change. But he ought to know that true change starts with changing the culture in Washington. Those in positions of leadership – and that certainly includes the president – must dispense with the mindset that an attack on a political opponent is an adequate alternative for civil dialogue. Blame-shifting is no substitute for finding solutions.
It might be smart politics to portray the opposing party in an unflattering light. But genuine leadership requires more than smart politics. It requires advancing a vision more selfless than winning the next election.
The cost of gasoline impacts all of us. It’s a serious issue worthy of serious debate, but the ridiculous attempt to tie the tea party to rising fuel prices does nothing at all to further the cause of substantive, serious debate. 
Richard Eckstrom is comptroller general of South Carolina.