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The ugly, oily truth

President Obama pulled into that old reliable filling station of inspiration this week, pledging once again to break our dependence on foreign oil. 

President Obama pulled into that old reliable filling station of inspiration this week, pledging once again to break our dependence on foreign oil.

I will immediately direct the full resources of the federal government and the full energy of the private sector to a single, overarching goal — in 10 years, we will eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela.”

Oh wait. That quote is from his campaign more than two and a half years ago. His most recent pledge: To reduce America’s oil imports by about 30 percent over the next 14 years.

Politicians love talking like this whenever oil prices go up or the Middle East starts wobbling. The only thing they like better is quietly watering down all those aspirations as soon as the crisis is past.

Oh sure, they enact new fuel efficiency standards, tour biofuel plants and wring their hands over drilling permits, but the story of America’s oil consumption is one word: more. Cars can go farther on a gallon of gas? We drive more. The price of gas goes down a few cents? We drive more. In the past 30 years, the number of miles Americans collectively drive has approximately doubled. The only time our feet come off of the accelerators is when the cost of gas jumps dramatically, and even then we usually adjust the lumbar support for our thinner wallets and keep on rolling.

So in fairness to politicians in both parties who have tackled this issue, we have to admit that we’re not helping them much. We are effectively chugging down any gains they make like frat boys during Rush Week.

It’s a complicated equation. If we really started cutting back on our driving that would mean fewer trips to restaurants, malls, movies and convenience stores — and the sputtering economy would soon be running low on gas itself. Still, politicians love gathering around this problem and discussing the options, while always suggesting the other party is to blame for the lack of progress.

“America has got to change its habits. We’ve got to get off oil,” the president said. Problem is, that was President George W. Bush. Three years ago. Since then, our gas-guzzling has barely even slowed down.

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”

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