Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When the abstract rubber meets the concrete road

Dean Barnett has penned one of those, “why didn’t I think of that?” articles in the Weekly Standard. In it he points out that politicians (and pundits such as himself) do not personally feel the pain at the pump to the level that most Americans do, because to them, driving often and/or over substantial distances is only an abstract concept.

Dean describes his driving habits this way:

I live just outside of Boston. On most days, my morning commute consists of trundling from my bedroom to the den where my laptop awaits. When I get ambitious or antsy, I run out to Starbucks for a latte or Whole Foods for some provisions. The Starbucks is about 300 yards from my house. Sometimes I walk it! But even when I don't walk, I don't use much gas. The Whole Foods is a couple of miles from my house; that I never walk, but my fuel consumption is minimal. My principal leisure activity is heading off to the golf course. That's four miles away. Every now and then I take a more ambitious journey, but as you can see I have a carbon footprint that would make me eligible for an "Al Gore Responsible Steward of the Environment" prize. And I haven't even had to put phoney-baloney solar panels on my house to display my environmental purity.

My minimal amount of driving means I fill up my gas tank on average a little more than once a month. With a 12-13 gallon purchase per fill-up, I'm dropping about $50 each time I visit my pal Eric at the neighborhood service station. So the sharp increase from $2 a gallon to $4 a gallon costs me a grand total of roughly $25 per month. To date, I have found this burden bearable.

Though we might be tempted to dwell on the revelation that Dean is a Starbucks-latte-sippin’, Whole-Foods-arugula-lovin’ pundit, let’s press on.

After briefly describing Obama’s driving situation as being somewhat similar to his (in that he lives in a big city), Dean then makes this observation:

But there's an entire country that exists outside greater Boston and Hyde Park, Chicago.

Dean then uses the experience of a recent golf trip to eastern Colorado as his example.

He should have asked us.

We had been working on a post to help explain how the cost of gas is affecting our family – and we were going to use an upcoming road trip to show how in 2005 it would have cost us $370 in gas, but now it will cost us nearly $700 (yes, a long, cross-country trip we are making by choice – and to which we bitterly joyfully cling, no matter the price of gas – to go spend a couple of weeks with family).

But this article gives us an idea for a different approach. And at the risk of incurring the wrath of Senator Obama and his disciples, we will use Michelle to help us illustrate the point.

Michelle Obama has famously stated:

“We spend between the two kids, on extracurriculars outside the classroom, we’re spending about $10,000 a year on piano and dance and sports supplements. And summer programs… Do you know what summer camp costs?”

For our purposes here, we will assume that the cost of transporting the kiddos to and from these extracurriculars is included in the ten grand.

And for our purposes, let’s assume Michelle drives average of 10 miles per day for an average of 5 days per week, a total of 50 miles each week transporting the peanuts to and from these extracurriculars.

Finally for our purposes, let’s assume that $10,000 was the cost in 2007, and assume a 3% annual inflation in non-gas related costs, but a constant participation across the years in the same extracurriculars.

Now. Let’s take our family. We too have extracurriculars for our two precious chicken nuggets. Between them we have swim lessons, golf lessons, gymnastics and soccer. Oh, and no summer camp (oh, we hear you Michelle, it is expensive! And we haven't even written one best-selling memoir, let alone two like your husband). We go the cheaper route of touring the Vacation Bible School Circuit with neighbors, classmates and teammates. The back of the envelope calculation bring us to $1,200 a year for these extracurriculars for the little angels, before gas.

Ah, gas. Yes, we don’t live in a big city. We live past the outskirts of a medium-sized city. Because it is part of our neighborhood’s name, friends refer to us as living in the “Woods”, as in practically out in the woods in cabins – where our in-town friends are surprised to learn that we have running water and electricity. When we head in toward town to go to these extracurriculars, we stock up on survival provisions, should anything happen to us on the way or on our return. Having looked up the mileage from our house to the various venues of the extracurriculars for the little darlins, it comes to a rough average of 150 miles per week (just the extracurriculars, not going to school, or work or the store or other errands or stops).

So, if we look at the overall cost of giving our munchkins the proper participation in extracurriculars to put them on the path to prevail in life – and the impact of rising gas costs over the past five years, how do we compare with the Obamas?

Let’s make that a more graphical depiction of the change we’ve not been waiting for, charting the percentage rise in cost versus 2004 as the starting point:

Now, an 18% rise over the past five years in the overall cost of extracurriculars is nothing to sneeze at (You know, this conversation isn’t helping Michelle’s kids).

But I’m certain that that 18% rise goes nearly unfelt in the Obama household when compared to the 55% rise in ours.

In fact, the price of gas has not moved very much as a percentage of the Obamas overall extracurriculars spending. For us, on the other hand, it now costs more to drive the punkins to their extracurriculars than it does for them to participate in them.

And yet, we couldn’t be in a better place – surrounded by wonderful neighbors, our kids going to fantastic schools, in a church home filled with people who love and take care of each other. We wouldn’t move for the world.

The price of gas could double from here, and we would consider ourselves blessed beyond measure.

But there are certainly those for whom an 18% increase in the cost of providing extracurricular activities for their children would prove debilitating, and even moreso a 56% increase.

Dean makes this point regarding Obama’s ability to understand (or willingness to act on) this situation:

The fact that our pundit class can't imagine how most of the country lives is hardly surprising. But Barack Obama is another story. He's running for president of the United States, not king of Hyde Park. If he wins, he'll be leader of all the people, not just the ones who live in cities and for whom their cars are luxuries. It shows a shocking lack of imagination that he can't deduce how painful hyper-expensive gasoline is for most Americans. Either that, or his enthusiasm for $4 a gallon gas evidences a callous indifference.

We have the necessary supply of imagination to supply our answer to that choice.



The gas cost was calculated taking the total miles per week x 52 / 20 mpg x the average price of gas in roughly June of each year:

2004: $1.85
2005: $2.20
2006: $2.75
2007: $2.95
2008: $4.05


  1. I hear ya baby and I feel your pain while simultaneously rejoicing in your blessings.

  2. The Obamas are so busy trying to be "something" they have lost sight of who they truly are.