The President's Great Gas Price Spike Media Blitz

The high price of gasoline is a tax on the economy, and higher prices this summer could very likely damage the President's re-election chances.  But the portrayal we have seen over the past week of an embattled President besieged by Republicans on this issue is false.  The White House campaign team has created an enormous smoke screen to hide the connection between its leftist energy policy and high gas prices.  So far, media organizations of all stripes seem to be falling for this diversionary devise.

A week ago, the nation's lead story had shifted suddenly away from contraception and social issues to GOP attacks on Obama.  The "news" story used as the trigger for this shift was a just-released WaPo/ABCNews poll.

Rising gas prices have many voters looking for someone to blame and President Obama appears to be as good a target as anyone, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests, with the president's approval rating falling from 50 percent last month to 46 percent recently.

So wrote Frank James of NPR on the morning of Monday, March 12th, helping to kick-off The President's Great Gasoline Price Spike Media Blitz.  On that morning, the strategy for the Blitz was established: Raise awareness of how the President is dealing with higher gasoline prices, and insert into the story the specter of gratuitous, partisan GOP attacks.  This strategy allows the media to avoid and obscure the very damaging story of drilling bans and the many other unpopular anti-fossil fuel policies.

To pull this off, a polling report from a credible source was required.   Such a report would need to have four elements: a lowered overall approval rating for Obama to create "news," a lead in preference over the GOP rivals to demonstrate superiority and optimism, and a few questions about gasoline prices to link the prices to the dip in the approval rating and show that any expectation that the President is culpable for high prices is unrealistic and foolish. The fourth element is a self-serving title on the cover of the polling report.  In this case, it was the strategically perfect "Election expectations move Obama's way, yet rising gas prices fuel GOP pushback." 

Notice that the title does not read: "Obama approval dips, gasoline price and energy policies are factors."  The poll's questionnaire omitted anything about energy policy. No questions were asked about drilling, leases, taxes, regulation, or perceptions and attitudes toward Obama on energy policies in general.  Of course, the red herring question "how much can a president do?" was asked, and the result was subsequently laughed at and flogged to death. 

In the White House that morning, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with the press to promote the President's energy strategy, the President gave interviews to six local TV stations in battleground states, and Salazar, Steven Chu, and Tom Vilsack held a meeting in the Roosevelt Room with industry representatives and union officials to discuss solar, wind and "renewables."

The President's message for Monday was that gas prices were high, "politicians" were to blame, drill-baby-drill was a chimera, the US was producing oil like never before, our imports are down, and big oil didn't deserve their tax breaks.  Strung together in one message, none of it made sense, but remember the objective: use a smoke screen to avoid and obscure the damage incurred by Obama's campaign against American energy consumption.

The message was not new -- he had given this speech in Miami two weeks before -- but the volume was now turned up high.  In Miami he had said:

Last week, the lead of one news story said, "Gasoline prices are on the rise, and Republicans are licking their chops."   Only in politics do people greet bad news so enthusiastically.   You pay more, and they're licking their chops?   And you can bet that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas.   I'll save you the suspense:  Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling.   We heard the same thing in 2007, when I was running for President.   We hear the same thing every year.   We've heard the same thing for thirty years.

On Tuesday morning, The New York Times / CBS News released a new poll.  The Times' article placed the plunge in Obama's approval front and center, and suggested mid-way through that this number should be viewed in the context of the gasoline prices.  In the 1,160 word story, gasoline prices were mention five times.  For example, "The decline in Mr. Obama's approval rating has occurred as Americans are confronted by rising gas prices on filling station billboards and the evening news."  It was a good point to make, but the grammatical use of "has occurred as" indicated that the poll did not probe the connection between approval and gas prices.  Had they done so, the connecting line would be drawn between the President and his unpopular policies. 

Since the article appeared on Tuesday, the President and the press have spotlighted the canard of "people think the president can set the price of oil."  The question asked in the Times/CBS poll is: "Is the price of gasoline something a president can do a lot about, or is that beyond any president's control?"  The result -- "can do" is 54% -- is perfectly consistent with the last 8 years of polling.  The Times did not suggest that this number was high; it was actually higher during the last administration.  Yet voter stupidity on this issue is suddenly a rallying cry for the Democrats.

Wednesday, March 14th saw Chuck Schumer announce that the Saudi's will help fill any gap created by the Iran oil embargo, and the President "agreed in principle" with Prime Minister Cameron to adjust the SPR if need be, thus taking a forceful "can do" approach.  The strategy is to obscure, not clarify.

The next day, Largo, Maryland was the setting for the President to toss around the distracting story about "politicians talking a lot and not doing much," and "seeing this movie before," and maligning anyone who disagrees with him by making a malicious slur against President Hayes. 

Friday was devoted to fund-raising.  Saturday's address: let's stand up to the oil companies.

This week, President Obama will take his message to voters in Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Ohio, where his overpowering bombardment will continue.  When it comes to gasoline prices, a president can run, but he can't hide. 

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