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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:09PM
‘When the president took office, the price of gasoline here in Nassau County was about $1.86 a gallon,” Mitt Romney said in Tuesday’s presidential debate. “Now, it’s $4 a gallon.”
Of all the misleading factoids tossed around by both candidates, that one took the cake. The implication — that President Barack Obama is to blame for the sharp rise in gas prices — was stunning in its deceit. Obama had nothing to do with that jump in gas prices, and no president can do much about gas prices in the short run.
Gas in New York’s Nassau County and across the nation was indeed about $1.86 when Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, but only because gas prices had just plummeted to the basement with the global economic crash. A mere eight weeks earlier, in November 2008, gas prices had topped $4 a gallon — higher than today. Gas prices climbed steadily through all eight years of the Bush administration.
Oil is traded on a world market, whether it’s drawn from a well in Saudi Arabia or off the coast of Alaska, making it difficult for any White House to control prices. A new well on American soil can take a decade or longer to get up and running and, even then, the oil can be sold anywhere in the world. America’s dream of “energy independence” is sure to remain just that, a dream, without the further development of renewable home-produced energy sources such as solar and wind.
Romney also was misleading, guilty of the sin of cherry-picking, when he complained that “oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land.” As the website PolitiFact pointed out in a post-debate analysis, oil production on public lands dropped for much of one year because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, but increased modestly during the Obama administration’s first three years.
Truth is, Obama deserves little credit or blame for any of this, given that oil field yields reflect corporate and government decisions made years earlier. Yet too many Americans, misled by folks running for office, continue to believe that the incumbent in the White House, whomever he may be, is directly responsible for the current price of gas at the pump.