A Gasoline Nightmare

by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Obama is barnstorming the west — blasting oil companies, trying to convince voters that he supports an “all of the above” policy, and reminding them that drilling has increased since his tenure. But that won’t work for five reasons.
1) No one believes that Obama is sincere. In 2008, in the hope-and-change adulation days when he was running for president, he talked about skyrocketing energy prices as a necessary cost for his vision of a desired cap-and-trade law. Energy secretary-designate Chu talked about the desirability of high European-like gasoline prices. And soon-to-be interior secretary Senator Salazar infamously bragged that even $10-a-gallon gas would not change his mind about new offshore drilling. All that has been so widely reported that one can even hear it at the gas pump — where those filling up mumble that Obama wanted these high gas prices.
In response to that political problem, the Obama team has not yet explained why they no longer believe the above. Secretary Chu merely concedes that he’s changed his mind, but that was an embarrassingly political concession. In other words, the public believes that Obama and his associates privately still think that high gas prices help the environment, cool the planet, make preferred subsidized green energy viable, and curb the gas-guzzling culture of the American middle class, but with a wink and a nod simply cannot say that any longer since they are now in a reelection cycle. And because Obama does not now either defend or refute his embarrassing remarks about the price of power needing to “skyrocket,” or similar views of his subordinates, voters believe that he will probably go back to his earlier positions if reelected or out of office.
2) The argument that under Obama oil production is up has the same ironic twist, and is more likely to hurt than help Obama: American oil production is up despite Obama rather than because of him, given that he has radically cut exploration on public lands and has been unable to affect fracking and horizontal drilling on private lands. He said not a word from 2009–12 about the revolution in oil drilling at a time when he was monotonously bragging about “millions of green jobs” and pouring hundreds of millions of federal dollars into failures like Solyndra. The public also knows that Obama more or less expressed an antipathy for new oil production when he once talked about “tuning up” cars and inflating tires in lieu of new drilling, and then trumped that with recent talk of uniquely American algae potential, a fuel resource unknown to most of us. Had Sarah Palin said that, well . . .
3) Even less appealing is Obama’s insistence that drilling has only long-term benefits and is no short-term remedy. If so, why then brag that oil production is up since 2009, when none of the increase is due to Obama’s own approval of new federal leases, but is instead due to both Bush’s approvals and the vision of private enterprise? This argument really works against Obama because of its inherent selfishness: “I will take credit for my predecessor’s investment that paid off on my watch, but will not make any commensurate investment by opening up federal leases for my successor.” Or “I will subsidize green power and ignore private oil concerns, but in a political pinch will go silent about what I was for and what failed, while bragging about what I was indifferent to or against — which succeeded.” People are not stupid and know all this.
4) Obama argues that more American oil won’t greatly affect a global market. Aside from the fact that in a tight market psychology rules and even a modest increase from a major producer in times of crises can lower prices, Obama himself does not believe this. We know that because his administration is pressuring the Saudis to pump more and wants to tap the strategic reserve. In other words, a million barrels here and there from the Saudis and the reserve will calm markets and lower prices in a way that fresh American oil would not have? To be consistent and honest, Obama would have to either push the reserve, the Saudis, and new drilling here, or admit that all three won’t do much in a vast global market, given their relatively small percentages of the global daily production.
5) Obama borrowed more in three years and two months than did Bush in eight years. The massive aggregate debt and gargantuan deficits depress the value of the dollar, and help to spike oil prices; a president by the very nature of his budget does have influence on how much oil a dollar overseas will buy.
I can understand why Obama is furious about the politics of oil, but frantically doing derrick photo-ops simply looks desperate and cynical. Far better would be to explain to the American people why his team once wanted higher fossil-fuel prices and why that was or is wise or is no longer true; and, why he has radically curbed new leasing on federal lands, and why that is wise or at least once was wise from 2009-12; and why tapping the reserve or getting other foreign nations to pump more is helpful in a way additional American production would not have been; and why he will insist on budget discipline and restore balance in the purchasing power of overseas dollars.
If he can’t do that, then he should not wonder why most fault him for their spiraling gas bills.

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson
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