Gas and gasbags

    With jobless claims at the lowest level in four years, with private sector job creation steadily on the rise, and with the Dow kissing 13,000, these are desperate times for the GOP. Surely there must be something, anything, it can use against President Obama in the heat of a campaign season…Oh wait, the price of gas is up!Yep, America’s favorite faux political issue is back again for its umpteenth spin through the news cycle. Motorists are paying more per gallon than they did a few months ago, worse yet they’re paying way more than they did when Obama was sworn in – ergo, all this pain at the pump has to be Obama’s fault. Rick Santorum blames Obama’s “radical environmental policies,” and Newt Gingrich, in a new ad, harrumphs: “When Barack Obama became president, we paid $1.89 (a gallon) that week. That’s right, President Obama has taken us from $1.89 to the most expensive gasoline on average we have ever had.”Gingrich is a gasbag on political life support, so at this point I’m tempted to ignore him. But his deceptive gas rhetoric perfectly illustrates why this issue is so phony. Actually, it’s worse than phony. It’s boring. Presidents of both parties have taken heat for gas price spikes for as long as I can remember – Richard Nixon, 1973; Ronald Reagan, 1981; Bill Clinton, 1996 and 2000; George W. Bush, 2005 and 2008; Obama, spring 2011 – and the same hard truth has been evident each and every time:There’s very little that presidents can do to control the price at the domestic pump, because the price is largely hostage to global events and trends beyond any leader’s control.On Obama’s watch, we’ve had a major Gulf oil spill, upheaval in Libya, and, today, growing unrest in Iran that has prompted the speculators (hedge fund and money managers worried about future supplies) to essentially bid up the price of oil. Newt Gingrich is factually correct that gas was roughly $1.89 a gallon when Obama took office, but, naturally, Newt is conveniently omitting the global reason why it was cheap: There was a worldwide recession that began on Bush’s watch, a recession that triggered a precipitous drop in consumption and a collapse in the price of oil.Plus, there are global economic trends that would challenge and bedevil any president of either party. America must now compete for oil with burgeoning India and China. Indeed, it’s a hard truth that the price at the pump is likely to rise as the global economy rebounds. Our demand goes up, demand in China and India goes up, rising demand drives up the price per gallon – that’s capitalism, folks.And there are no quick fixes, no simple solutions. The GOP’s drill-baby-drill mantra is essentially worthless, because not even the oil experts believe that expanded domestic exploration would make much of a dent in the pump price. Ken Green, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, wrote early last year: “The world price is the world price…We probably couldn’t produce enough to affect the world price of oil. People don’t understand that.” He was later seconded by oil analyst Tom Kloza, who tracks gas prices for the AAA motorist group: “This drill drill drill thing is tired. It’s a simplistic way of looking for a solution that doesn’t exist.”Still, the GOP might be able to score some points with the voters. Pump-price politicking may be mindless, but Obama recognizes the political danger. Even though gas prices in America are the lowest in the western world, motorists with no sense of perspective look for the most convenient scapegoat – and the buck stops at the top. Which is why Obama sought to get ahead of the faux issue in a Florida speech yesterday, mixing candor about the facts of life (Middle East instability; the Chinese appetite for oil) with caustic comments about the Republican opportunists:”You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their 3-point plan for $2 gas – and I’ll save you the suspense. Step one is to drill and step two is to drill. And then step three is to keep drilling. We heard the same line in 2007 when I was running for President. We hear the same thing every year. We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years. Well, the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling. That’s a bumper sticker…Anybody who tells yo we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”Fortunately for Obama, his challengers are ill-suited to take advantage of the gas price spike. The latest USA Today-Gallup poll reports that 55 percent of Republican voters wish that other candidates were running – the highest level of GOP disenchantment ever registered in that survey. I guess people just aren’t in the mood to buy Newt’s claim that, by dint of his greatness, he would bring back cheap gas.Rick Perry is basically making that claim on Newt’s behalf, by the way. Yes, one of the worst Republican candidates in modern history is back on the scene, pumping hard for Newt. After the GOP debate on Wednesday night, he told reporters that if the world perceived that Newt was going to be president, that alone would lower the price of oil. I kid you not. Here’s what Perry said:”As a matter of fact, perception is everything in this world we live in, and if the perception is Newt Gingrich could be the next president of the United States, that will have a worldwide effect, I will suggest to you, on the price of oil. And people who watch these markets and people who deal with these markets understand, that when you see the type of approach that he’s talking about – opening up federal lands and waters, opening up that pipeline from Canada, clearly giving incentives to drill in America for domestic energy, and then an all-of-the-above policy, whether it’s wind or nuclear or whatever it might be – that will have a dampening effect on the cost of oil.”With gasbags like that, it’s hard to see how the GOP can take down Obama on the price of gas.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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