The most contentious current national issue is the rising cost of gasoline. It is happening on Obama’s watch, and he is doing his best to deflect the issue. As with most national issues, the true facts are not being discussed from podiums, and communication slight of hand is being practiced before us.
The term communication slight of hand refers to a claim by administration officials that they are doing all they can to raise supply and impact the price of gasoline. Interior and Energy Secretaries Salazar and Chu both use the present tense to describe administration actions. Since the process of establishing policy, executing policy, and allowing the market to follow through on that policy takes years, the key issue that should be discussed in terms of what did the administration do in that first year of office to establish a consistent policy? If Obama wanted a low gasoline price in time for re-election, he would have had to implement a consistent policy in his first year in office.
In an article from the New York Times yesterday, it is clear that Obama took office promoting “policies to help combat global warming, including vast investments in renewable energy and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that would have discouraged the use of fossil fuels.” The article further states that only recently did the Obama administration open up lands and water to drilling, the effect of which won’t be felt for some time. In the meantime, we are forced to listen to an administration who keeps communications in the present tense in order to obfuscate the true issue, which is what did they do three years ago to keep prices down? The answer is nothing.
The administration is correct when it says that the price of oil is set globally. And yes, it is based on supply and demand. The demand side fluctuates based on the general level of the economy and user preferences for transportation. The increased use of hybrids and alternative energy mileage cars will lower demand over time, but that time horizon will take years. The level of reduced demand that we all want is not around the corner. The general level of the economy also impacts demand. As the economy was slow, worldwide demand was low. As the worldwide economy grows, worldwide demand for oil also grows, especially in emerging markets like China and India who have rapidly expanding auto industries. Our oil prices feel the impact of their usage as much as our own. We knew in the last years of the Bush administration when oil reached $150 per barrel that insuring supply was paramount, but early decisions by the Obama administration ignored that reality.
The proper policy, which emphasizes all energy options, is referred to as “all of the above.” Because the policy needs to be consistent from the beginning of a presidency to its end, the policy should be expanded to “all of the above all of the time.”
Obama believes that one of his key strengths is to communicate to the American people. But this situation indicates that he sometimes relies on communication tricks such as referring to the present to persuade when the issue is what wasn’t done in the past.