Here's some unsolicited advice for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney: The "pander" works much better when you don't let the "panderee" in on the joke.
Romney was in Kirkwood, Mo., on Tuesday blaming President Barack Obama for rising gasoline prices. Obama should have drilled more, Romney alleged.
Then he took a swipe at the president for blaming "loose talk" of war in Iran for driving the price of crude oil higher.
"It is disappointing to have the president of the United States take a serious foreign-policy issue, which is Iran, the state sponsor of terror in the world becoming nuclear, and trying to turn that into, saying we're somehow responsible for high gasoline prices in this country," Romney said. "It is a real stretch."
The ploy of presidential candidates blaming sitting presidents for rising gas prices is nearly as old as the internal combustion engine.
Just one election cycle ago, it was Obama pulling the same routine against then-President George W. Bush.
But Romney pulls the punch right out of his attack when, days before he launches it, he makes it clear it's meaningless.
"I think people recognize that the president can't precisely set the price at the pump," Romney told CNBC just days ago.
Actually, it gets worse. At a Republican presidential debate in December, Romney himself tied Iran to gas prices, saying that as president, he would be responsible for higher prices on gasoline because he'd place "crippling" sanctions on Iran.
Romney was right the first time, when he said that the president -- any president -- can't do all that much about gas prices.
In non-election years, it's gas station owners, not politicians, who get blamed for price spikes. In his role as their spokesman in Missouri, Ron Leone has answered the "why are gas prices high" question perhaps more often than anybody else in the Show-Me State.
"In general, pump prices are high for two main reasons," he told us: "First, the price of crude oil is high at $107 per barrel."
Leone and other analysts offer a lot of reasons for the high price: warmer weather, speculators playing the market, high global demand, and, yes, political unrest.
"The second reason is that every spring the EPA requires that crude oil refiners transition from winter fuel to summer fuel.
The summer fuel costs more to refine because the EPA is concerned about air pollution and therefore requires that summer fuel tolerate the warmer weather without excessive evaporation."
Then there's the added fact that St. Louis gas stations have to sell "boutique fuels" to deal with our city's pollution problems, Leone points out. This mandate pushes area prices higher.
Unfortunately, Romney's top congressional supporter in the state, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has been trying to undo that mandate. What's a few more respiratory problems among friends?
Romney doesn't seem to have a knack for proper pandering. Consider his question to the Kirkwood crowd about whether he should say "Missour-ah" or "Missour-ee."
When you ask a crowd how to speak, rather than simply pandering in their dialect, you lose the effect. That's particularly true when the only class of people who regularly say "Missouri-ah" anymore are pandering politicians.
Y'all come back now, ya' hear?