Energy was a big topic in the second presidential debate. The word alone was mentioned 40 times. Gas or gasoline were mentioned 30 times. At one point, Mitt Romney told the audience that President Obama is not “Mr. Gas,” which was meant as an insult but would usually be a compliment in any other setting.
Unfortunately, the debate offered a simplistic view of a complex topic. The most egregious example was the attack that Romney made on the Obama administration’s energy policy, which he boiled down to one key argument: Energy policies are measured solely by the price that consumers pay, and since prices for gasoline, heating oil, and electricity have all risen over the last four years, President Obama’s energy policy has failed. “The proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is that you’re paying at the pump,” Romney said.
That’s good sloganeering, but it’s not accurate.
By such a measure, rising gasoline prices, the energy policy of every president since LBJ—save for Ronald Reagan—has failed. When Reagan took office in 1981, the U.S. was still reeling from the 1979 oil shock, as well as from double-digit inflation. Over the next eight years, as global oil supplies loosened and inflation was tamed, gasoline prices dropped.
You’d think a man as business savvy as Romney would be more attuned to the fact that markets, not politicians, determine the price of crude oil and therefore gasoline. The notion that government can control energy prices, or at least should, seems more akin to the policies of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez than the free-market principles of the Republican Party.
Energy markets are as complex as any in the world. But complexity makes for bad campaign messaging. So Romney has reverted to a simplistic message that more oil production will lead directly to lower gasoline prices. If only it were that easy.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment