Obama Hopes Gas-Price Task Force Will Appease America

In this April 20, 2011 photo an Exxon gas station near the Watergate complex in Washington, DC shows gas prices at $5 USD per gallon. Instabillity in the Middle East and oil speculation have kept gas prices rising steadily across the US. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images) Photo: KAREN BLEIER/2011 AFP

Gas prices — which have risen 30 cents in the past month and a dollar over the past year, and could reach up to $6.50 a gallon this year under the right conditions, according to some predictions — are killing President Obama, and not because his motorcade is 85 cars long. When gas prices go up, voters get unhappy, and when voters are unhappy, they blame the president, even if he has pretty much no control over the economic forces that dictate the cost of refueling your car. Now Obama's poll numbers are falling, and many believe there's a direct correlation to gas prices. That would hardly be a new development in American politics. As the National Journal recounts:

Obama's not the first president to learn the inverse relationship between gas prices and his poll numbers. In the spring of 1979, President Jimmy Carter's Gallup Poll approval fell from 40 percent in April to as low as 28 percent in late June as unrest in Iran sent gas prices skyrocketing. In 1990, Americans rallied around President George H.W. Bush ahead of the Gulf War, but once gas prices started to rise, his approval ratings dipped nearly 25 points in just two months.

Obama himself yesterday blamed his sagging ratings on the soaring price of gas.

“My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people,” Obama acknowledged at his sixth fundraising event in two days.

So, not wanting to appear as powerless as he actually is, Obama has decided to do something, even if that something is forming a task force ("a task force? We're saved!" says nobody):

"We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain," Obama said at a town-hall style meeting at a renewable energy plant in Reno, Nev. ....

The task force will focus some of its investigation on "the role of traders and speculators" in the oil-price surge, Obama said, and will include several Cabinet department officials, federal regulators and the National Association of Attorneys General.

While speculators do play a role in the rising price of oil, and are particularly attractive scapegoats in these times of Wall Street antagonism, there's no evidence that anything illegal is actually going on:

In Washington, Holder said he would press ahead with the investigation, even though he did not cite any current evidence of intentional manipulation of oil and gas prices or fraud.

An analyst concurs:

Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank AG (DB) in Washington, said the Obama administration’s announcement “seems like a political action.”

“They are going to investigate whether any fraud and manipulation has occurred, not that there was any evidence that it had taken place,” he said in an interview. “I suspect they won’t find any sign of major fraud or manipulation.”

In other words, gas prices will keep going up. Expect Donald Trump to increasingly focus less on birtherism and more on his totally vague but appealing promise to somehow demand that OPEC lower the price of oil. We'll know Obama is really getting desperate if he suddenly decides that a gas tax holiday isn't such a bad idea after all.

Obama says new task force will examine gas prices [MSNBC]
U.S. Team to Study Whether ‘Speculators’ Driving Up Pump Prices [Bloomberg]
Gas Prices Pose Problems for Obama [National Journal]
Stepping On The Gas: Obama Worries That Rising Prices At The Pump Are Sinking His Poll Number [Note/ABC News]