The topic of gas prices has taken center stage recently in our political discourse. Gas prices, as we are all painfully aware of, are have been climbing steadily, effecting us not only at the pump, but everywhere else where higher fuel costs are passed down the line to consumers, like at the grocery store.
So why does Obama let this happen? Why does he refuse to lift a finger to bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon, as Newt Gingrich promises to do if he is elected? Well, if you read the comments on the FoxNews web site from readers weighing in on the topic, you would learn that it is because: “the only thing he cares about is implementing his socialist/Marxist agenda”; and that “The progressive left have completed their agenda to weaken America so they can now bring in the wolves to finish her off.” I am not making this stuff up. These people really exist.
The insanity isn’t just coming from the right-wing blogosphere, either. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said a few weeks ago that Mr. Obama should be held “fully responsible for what the American public is paying for gasoline.” Other politicians with close ties to the oil and gas industries (i.e., mostly Republicans), are also getting into the mix. This has become a huge political issue, but its implications go far beyond just politics.
If the Republicans can convince Americans that today’s high gas prices are a result of Obama’s overregulation and antipathy for the hydrocarbon industry, then they can successfully distract voters from the real issue of what dependence on fossil fuels means for our country and for the world, politically, economically and environmentally, and at the same time score political points in an important election year.
The facts are that under Obama domestic production is way up from what it was at any time under Bush II (see NY Times graph). Is this because of Obama’s supposed onerous regulation, I wonder? It is also a fact that any expansion of drilling permits, or approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (a project originally opposed by Nebraska’s republican governor) would not have an impact on oil prices for years, especially since most of that oil would go to foreign markets anyway.
Oil is a global commodity, and producers will sell to whoever will pay the most. With the continued growth of countries like China, India Brazil and South Africa, global demand is only increasing. This is reflected in the rising gas prices all around the world, not just in the US. The US now exports more oil than it imports, but oil drilled here doesn’t necessarily stay here.
The fact that OPEC controls huge international oil supplies, and has the power to drive up prices through reducing production whenever it wants needs to also be acknowledged by Obama-hating Republicans. Middle East instability, lack of refinery capacity, corporate profits and global commodity speculators (which even the hyper-conservative Lou Dobbs admits is a big reason for current gas prices) all play a role as well. None of this, of course, is immediately under Obama’s control, or acknowledged by Republicans engaged in their anti-Obama rhetoric.
But common sense and facts have never given Republicans pause before, so why start now? That is why their only response to the situation is to “drill baby drill”, and make sure that high-earning oil companies continue to get billions of dollars in tax subsidies each year, while at the same time decrying efforts to subsidize green-energy firms, a move which, apparently, is only appropriate for fossil fuel companies. (These subsidies, curiously enough, don’t seem to be an issue for GOP deficit hawks. I guess deficit concerns just apply to NPR or Health Care.)
And what about reducing demand for fossil fuels through less consumption, increased fuel efficiency and alternative fuels? Poppycock! That is just liberals trying to destroy America through their environmental scare tactics! Somehow Republicans missed that day in econ. class when their professors explained how there are two ways to bring down costs in a market, one being increasing supply and the other being to reduce demand.
At the end of the day oil is a non-renewable resource, and it will only get more expensive as the economies of highly populated countries around the word continue to grow, and as long as western nations continue in their oil addiction. The only way to deal with it is to start figuring out how to use less. Period. But until the Right pulls its head out of the sand (and pulls its hands out of big-oil’s pockets), I’m afraid the prospects for making progress on this front are not promising. And like gas prices, that is also not something Obama has personal control over.