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“Tire Gauge Politics:” Obama Becomes The Status Quo On Energy

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“What do you think are some of the important issues in this year’s presidential election?”

My question was off-topic from the stated purpose of the interview, and my talk show guest seemed a bit caught off-guard.  But I was even more surprised by his answer.

It was early in the year 2000.  Vice President Al Gore was ramping-up his presidential bid, while a bunch of Republicans were slugging it out for a chance to run against him.  And although the dot com economic bubble was looking like it might be headed for a burst, the American economy was still relatively stable – certainly more so than it is now.

“Well, our lack of a coherent energy policy is a huge issue right now” noted the famous automotive revolutionary Lee Iacocca.  Gasoline was averaging only $1.50 a gallon at the time, and Iacocca was visiting my hometown of Phoenix to unveil his then-new electric bicycle invention.  But he was willing to venture in to a discussion of presidential politics – and “energy policies” were top of mind for him.

“When I was running Chrysler I tried to get Presidents Carter and Reagan to focus on this, but when foreign oil is cheap it’s just too easy to play politics and to ignore the problem of foreign oil dependency” he continued. “One of these days America is going to end up in big trouble if we don’t make some changes…”

That was twelve years ago. And today we are in trouble – have we been “playing politics” all these years? - as yet another spike in foreign oil prices threatens our economy.  And, just like in 2008, Barack Obama is once again running a campaign for the presidency in an environment of spiking fuel prices - only this time he’s the incumbent and not the outsider.

The price increases have become so burdensome that the President can no longer ignore them.  Last Thursday he stated that “some politicians, they see this as a political opportunity,” and noted a headline from “one newspaper” which supposedly indicated that “Republicans are licking their chops” over rising gas prices. “Only in politics do people root for bad news” President Obama growled to his audience.

And the price surge is happening against a rather bizarre background.  After denying a permit in January for the expansion of the TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL Pipeline project - a project that would have presumably expanded American oil refining and decreased America’s foreign oil dependency – the President is now stuck defending his obsession with government funded electric cars that don’t sell, and failed solar energy companies owned by his campaign donors which have “lost” hundreds of millions of our tax revenues. 

This confluence of elements has led the President to begin talking about domestic oil production as though it were actually a good thing.  Under his administration, the President continued in his Thursday speech, “America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years,” with a record number of oil and gas rigs. “We’re focused on production.”

This is a dramatic departure from the President’s previous attitude. While campaigning for the presidency during the 2008 price spike, candidate Obama scoffed at the idea of producing more oil at home.  “If everybody in America inflated their tires to the proper level,” he sarcastically noted in August of that year, “we would actually probably save more oil, than all the oil we’d get from John McCain drillin’ right below his feet… or wherever he was gonna drill…”

Americans need to demand both an end to the “politics of oil,” and a coherent energy policy. Never again should we settle for cynical “tire gauge politics,” or “stimulus dollars” for President Obama’s solar energy friends.

Republican congressional leaders should take the lead now – now, while the President is lacking credibility on the issue - and begin to acknowledge the obvious: the United States is home to its own substantial oil and gas resources.

There’s nothing wrong or “unfair” about this – we’ve got resources right here at home. Yet it iscurrently a violation of federal law to search for oil in the Pacific Ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Atlantic Ocean, and in Alaska. Similarly, it is against the law to search for oil shale in the continental United States.

President Obama is being forced to contradict his positions from four years ago because he’s not campaigning against the status quo.  He is the status quo in this year’s election, and the status quo has us, once again, “over a barrel.” Alternative energy development is good, noble and necessary – but oil is our need right now.

Who will take the lead, in the President’s absence?

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