I don’t need to use a lot of space telling you why high gas prices are bad for America, but I contend that they are good for an election. Until the current precipitous price increases, energy seemed absent from the overall debate. Now the GOP candidates are all talking about how they would maximize American resources to bring down the price of gas and, rightly so, putting President Obama on the defense.
Press Secretary Jay Carney has recently repeated that there is nothing the White House can do. President Obama uses the high prices as an excuse to keep throwing good money after bad to develop “alternatives” like the now fabled Solyndra and this week’s Abound Solar announced lay-offs and delays—even though solar energy, if it ever became viable, has virtually nothing to do with transportation. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is now having to defend his comment in response to a question regarding whether or not the Administration’s goal is to lower gasoline prices: “No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil.”
While it might appear that the White House was broadsided by the energy conversation, President Obama is very well aware of the importance of energy in the 2012 election cycle.
Back in November when President Obama announced he’d delay the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline for more than a year, until after the elections, Republicans were outraged. The pipeline represents up to 20,000 direct jobs and untold thousands of follow-on jobs in hotels, restaurants, retail, and more. In an attempt to force the issue, Republicans inserted a Keystone decision into December’s payroll tax-cut extension bill. Weeks before an end-of-February answer was needed, President Obama handed the Republicans the makings of a campaign commercial. He claims to support job creation, yet here, with no government funds involved, were thousands of jobs—and he killed the project! Does he really care about out-of-work Americans and the economic boost those jobs would provide?
The answer lies in the location of those thousands of jobs: red states (those that typically vote Republican). The Keystone XL pipeline travels exclusively through red states; states the President is not likely to win no matter how many jobs his policies could create in the region. Supporting the pipeline and the 6,000-20,000 jobs it represents (pipeline opponents claim the 20,000 number is inflated, saying 6,000 jobs is more realistic) would not help his re-election efforts. He could kill Keystone, make his environmental base happy, and not lose an electoral vote.
Then, days later, January 24, in the State of the Union address (SOTU), President Obama angered that very same green base by ignoring their key cause—global warming and its supposed solution: green energy—and touted the benefits of natural gas. America’s natural gas abundance is a result of high-pressure extraction—a practice known as “fracking” (short for hydraulic-fracturing). Two states rich in this shale gas have turned poor farmers into overnight millionaires: Pennsylvania and Ohio—both are blue states (typically voting Democrat). Go against natural gas extraction in these two important states and President Obama could lose the entire election. Here, alienating the environmental base is worth the gamble.
Additionally, these two blue states have been trending red. The last gubernatorial election saw a Republican win in each state—replacing a Democrat. Both Pennsylvania and Ohio have one Democrat and one Republican Senator. The 2010 election brought in new Republican Senators in each state. In 2012, each state has a Democrat Senator up for reelection. Republican red already controls the House of Representatives. Taking control of the Senate would virtually neuter the White House.
President Obama's SOTU support for natural gas contradicts his energy policies and practices. He has thrown money into green project after green project. His EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is threatening America's newfound riches with a proposed ban on fracking. Such actions would bring an abrupt halt to the growing economies in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He’d anger the electorate and ensure a Republican vote. In the SOTU, President Obama had to quell concerns to try to keep those Democrat Senators.
His first campaign ad of the 2012 election cycle was designed to make the average viewer think that he is the champion of fossil fuels. His claim that the US oil imports are now below 50% is true—although no thanks to his policies.
President Obama knows energy is key to the 2012 election and has set policy based on votes rather than what is best for all of America. We can hope that the need to win Ohio will cause him to keep a lid on Lisa Jackson’s overzealous regulatory aims for fracking—but then, Steven Chu offered Republicans more campaign ad fodder when he went rogue and admitted that the Administration didn’t care about high gas prices.
Instead of beating up on each other, the Republican candidates need to grab the ball and run with it: attack President Obama for his abysmal record on energy, maximize the Keystone debacle, point out the damage to the Gulf economy his drilling ban inflicted, keep the EPA’s barrage of cost-increasing regulations front and center, and quote Chu.
When energy costs go up, everyone gets hurt—but the poor are more severely impacted. Trapped into dependence, hope of personal prosperity is dashed. James Fallows, in his Atlantic cover story, says Obama’s opponents will argue that he’s been “Too weak in defending the nation’s interests, and all too skillful in advancing his socialist agenda.”
America needs a President who will put “defending the nation’s interests” ahead of “advancing his socialist agenda.”