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Sensing an opening, Republican hopefuls shamelessly are promising voters they have the magic wand that will bring down gas prices.

Newt Gingrich promises $2.50 per gallon.

Mitt Romney is not as audacious, but assures everyone there is no other cause in the world for today’s gasoline prices other than the recalcitrance of President Barack Obama.

Apparently, the free-market crowd thinks Americans have a God-given right to cheap gas (although not to health care). The fact that gasoline prices in the U.S. are lower — by far — than in any other Western country is irrelevant.

Voters who look beyond bumper-sticker solutions to complex problems understand the price of crude oil is determined by many variables, none of which is under the direct control of the President of the United States — or any of his outspoken wannabes. Baseline crude oil prices are set by a cartel answerable to no one. Short-term variations are influenced by speculation and the fear of military action against Iran. If prices were determined only by supply and demand, they would be substantially lower today. Domestic gasoline consumption is at a 10-year low, and current gasoline inventories are up 3.1 percent over last year.

Extremists cry, “Drill, baby, drill.” To these people, I have four words: “Deepwater Horizon” and “Exxon Valdez.” If these instances have taught us anything, it is we must be cautious about the way we produce and distribute crude oil. Obama is wise to postpone any decisions on the Keystone pipeline until all the environmental impact facts are in. That oil is not going anywhere else. TransCanada has no realistic alternative to a southern pipeline from landlocked Alberta.

Let us all take a deep breath, and ask what we can do ourselves to cut down on gasoline consumption rather than depending on the federal government to do it for us. Isn’t that what conservatism is all about?

Dick Bucci, Fluvanna