Victor Davis Hanson

Are high gas prices a good thing?

That is not as dumb a question as it sounds. Examine a few revealing past remarks from President Obama and the Cabinet officials who are now in charge of the nation's energy use and oil leases on federal lands. Then decide whether the current soaring gas prices are supposed to be good or bad.

In 2008, then-Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar -- now the secretary of the Department of the Interior in charge of the leasing of federal oil lands -- refused to vote for any new offshore drilling. In a Senate exchange with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Salazar objected to allowing any drilling on America's outer continental shelf -- even if gas prices reached $10 a gallon. We can now see why the president appointed Salazar, inasmuch as Obama recently promised the Brazilians that he would be eager to buy their newfound offshore oil -- while prohibiting similar such exploration here at home.

From 2007 to 2008, Steven Chu, now secretary of Energy, weighed in frequently on global warming and the desirable price of traditional energy. At one point, Chu asserted, "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." Chu also lamented, "We have lots of fossil fuel; that's really both good and bad news. We won't run out of energy, but there's enough carbon in the ground to really cook us."

In other words, $10 a gallon for gas would be desirable, while an enormous amount of recoverable American oil, gas, coal, tar sands and oil shale should be left untapped.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama himself had strange ideas about the prospect of expensive prices for fossil-fuel-generated energy: "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." Then-candidate Obama also elaborated on the envisioned role of his administration in ensuring such high prices: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them."

As for consumers' plight in paying skyrocketing gas prices, the president, now and in the past, has sounded ambivalent. He recently told a questioner, "If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting eight miles a gallon, you know, you might want to think about a trade-in." Few large passenger vehicles today get only eight miles a gallon, and many squeezed Americans in recessionary times cannot so breezily think of "a trade-in".

In 2008, Obama addressed consumer fears about climbing gas prices: "But we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much."

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.