That Gassy Feeling

No one, not even the greenest environmental wacko in the world, likes paying higher prices for gasoline.

We can state this with journalistic certainty, because back in our newspaper days the editors would send us out in search of utterly predictable man-at-the-pump quotes to localize wire stories every time the prices spiked. On one such occasion we happened to spot a fellow we know to be the greenest environmental wacko in the world as he was filling up his tiny automobile. We immediately pounced on him, notebook and pen in hand, hoping to snare the first-ever quote in praise of higher gas prices, but alas, even he offered nothing but the usual grousing.

With gas prices once again on the rise, already reaching record levels for the month of February and expected to head far past the outrage-inducing $4 barrier by peak summer driving season, all that really matters is who gets the blame. Much of the anger will likely be directed towards President Barack Obama, and this seems fair enough.

Presidents always get the blame for high gas prices, after all. The last oil shock came during the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, and he was blamed by everyone, including then-candidate Obama. If only for the sake of bi-partisanship and intellectual consistency, this venerable tradition of blaming the president should continue for at least one more term.

Bush was easily blamed because he’d once been an oil man and was thus perceived to be friendly toward the oil industry, always a mother lode of material for conspiracy theorizing, but Obama’s once-vaunted hostility toward energy producers should make him an even more plausible scapegoat. This is the man whose only regret about the last round of $4-a-gallon gas was that it hadn’t happened gradually enough, after all, and the same one who appointed a Secretary of Energy who openly yearned for European-level gas prices. He’s also the same fellow who openly boasted that his cap-and-trade plan was intended to cause to electricity rates to “skyrocket.”

As president, Obama has not pursued a cheap energy policy. He acted in contempt of a court to impose a moratorium on drilling in the gulf of Mexico, blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and has continued to keep the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and other oil-rich properties off the market, and subsidized a number of “green” industries whose business models rely on higher energy prices. He’s now touting increases in domestic oil and gas production, even as he continues to play the role of environmentalist hero, but most of the increase has come on private land or because of permits issued by his oil-loving predecessor.

You can also make a strong case that the oil hasn’t become more valuable, but the dollars we’re buying it with have become less so. If so, Obama’s profligacy and his choice for Federal Reserve chairman are at fault.

One can also blame the mad mullahs running Iran, whose belligerence has spooked the futures markets into bidding up the price of crude oil, but this still does not leave Obama blameless. It is impossible to say if a more confrontational policy would have deterred Iran from its recent aggressions, but it is quite possible to say that the “open hand” approach has thus far not worked out.

The White House will no doubt give it a try, but it’s going to be a hard sell to blame the higher gas prices of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or any other Republican challenger. They won’t dare blame it on Satan.

— Bud Norman

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