Steve Chapman

At this year's convention, the chant had fallen out of fashion. Maybe that's because it might lead voters to realize something the GOP would prefer not to publicize: Under Obama, domestic oil output has sharply increased, and prices have gone up anyway.

In recent months, U.S. fields have been churning out more than 6 million barrels of crude per day -- the highest level since 1998. The number of drilling rigs in operation has more than tripled. If you didn't know better, you'd think a Texas oilman was in the Oval Office.

But the apparent glut has not brought down retail prices. This is not entirely bad news. As the economy has grown, albeit slowly, demand for energy has grown as well. If economic growth had been more vigorous, in fact, prices would be even higher than they are now.

Obama thus finds himself cursed with painful driving costs even though the usual important factors should have kept them down. Until recently, strong growth in places like China and India fed high worldwide demand. The possibility of an attack on Iran has created fears of a supply disruption. Hurricane Isaac and refinery problems have tightened the squeeze.

All of this highlights the banal reality: There's not much this or any other president can do to manage today's unpredictable worldwide market to please American consumers. Events beyond our borders can overwhelm the effects of U.S. government policy.

So when politicians talk about gas prices, don't pay much attention. Knowing which candidate will win the presidential election wouldn't tell you much about what you'll be paying at the pump over the next four years.

When it comes to the oil market, the next president is likely to find himself in the same position as an illustrious predecessor. "I claim not to have controlled events," said Abraham Lincoln, "but confess plainly that events have controlled me."


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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