Mitt Romney and Republicans beware: Campaigning on gas prices can burn you in the end

If gas prices are rising, you can bet some politician is out there trying to blame it on the other party. That is especially true with an election looming.

So it’s no surprise that on the same day the Washington Post reported a 1.5-cent overnight jump in prices to an average nationwide of $3.843 per gallon at the pump, Washington State Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican, said it was President Obama’s fault. Mitt Romney also has made today’s prices an issue.

Careful, now. If you live by politicizing gas prices, you may also die by politicizing gas prices.

I’ll admit the president was shortsighted in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline, mainly because he was guaranteeing the Canadians would simply do business with the Chinese instead of with us. Also, the president has hampered some offshore drilling projects that would be important to the long-term needs of the nation.

But I’m pretty sure Obama didn’t cause hurricane Isaac. Not unless the CIA has made some monumental scientific breakthrough it has kept secret. The hurricane shut down refineries along the Gulf Coast for a period of time. That disrupted markets and led to a jump in prices worldwide.

It’s also likely to be a temporary jump. Baring some other catastrophe, war or similar event, prices are expected to fall as summertime demand drops off, experts say.

If you’re trying to tie today’s rise in prices to the other team’s energy policies, the other team may throw that back in your face during tomorrow’s decline in prices.

In reality, even if Obama had approved more offshore permits and the Keystone Pipeline, those things would have affected long-term production, not short-term.

The nation’s highest gasoline prices, in real terms, came under the George W. Bush administration. That was a bubble that burst during volatile economic times, bringing the price down to about $1.84 in short order, and just in time for Obama to be elected. So now his political foes are comparing today’s prices to the time when Obama was elected.

For the most part, politicians are at the mercy of market forces on gas prices, and those are at the mercy of world events.

Long-term decisions are indeed important, however. On that score, the president hasn’t done much to ensure cheap energy for Americans, nor has he done much to spur a move toward cheaper alternatives, such as natural gas.

However, long-term issues don’t translate well into election-season bumper stickers — but those bumper stickers will look silly if prices begin to fall between now and November.

Categories: Campaign 2012

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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