Menu

OPINION

Why is President Obama so rattled by Newt Gingrich?

Feb. 17, 2012: Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a campaign stop in Peachtree City, Ga.AP

Newt Gingrich can’t win a primary for love or money, but he sure has gotten under President Obama’s skin. His attacks on the president’s energy policy, or lack thereof, appear to have unnerved the normally unflappable Mr. Obama. 

The president has scoffed at Gingrich’s promise to lower gasoline prices to $2.50, while likening those who challenge his own love affair with alternative fuels to “founding members of the flat earth society.” 

The president describes suggested measures that could bring down gas prices as akin to waving a “magic wand”; his press secretary Jay Carney accused anyone promising $2.50 gas of “lying”. How can Mr. Gingrich, who is nearly out of the GOP race, so rattle the White House?

There are good reasons for Mr. Obama’s discomfort. First is the almost immediate hit to the president’s popularity when gasoline prices go up. Rightly or wrongly, Americans hold him accountable. In fact, the president is vulnerable on this topic. 

He has consistently portrayed fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas as energy products of the past while expressing an almost unimaginably naïve optimism about the potential of alternatives. His attachment to high-cost “green” energy has played well with environmentalists but for most of the country – the roughly 50% not concerned about global warming -- it is increasingly viewed as an expensive boondoggle.

President Obama’s enthusiasm for green tech is especially inappropriate in the midst of a recession. A new study has shown that mandates to use alternative energy now in place in 29 states – and proposed on a national scale by Mr. Obama – have caused electricity rates to soar. On average, those states are paying 32% more for electricity than their neighbors. This is a horrifying tax that is even now filtering through to businesses and households in states like California, which has lately adopted the most stringent mandates in the country. Nothing could retard our recovery faster than jacking up power rates across the country, but that is exactly what this president wants to do.

Mr. Obama further compounded his difficulties by blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. To be sure, the politically motivated decision will have no near-term impact on gasoline prices, but it surely furthers the narrative that the president has turned his back on oil and gas. And to what end? 

Do we think that by refusing to allow transport of Alberta tar sands through our country those resources will not be produced? Nonsense. If we don’t buy this crude, the Chinese will.

Perhaps Gingrich’s most nettlesome issue for the president, however, comes from the notion that the former House speaker is, as the Washington Post describes him, one of the GOP’s “most visible and prolific idea men.” 

Party aside, President Obama surely thinks of himself in this way. He is the new generation, he is the seer of the future, he is the most capable of embracing new technology.

The irony is that it is President Obama who is out of step with new technology. Remarkable advances in oil and gas extraction have caused a profound change in expectations for our fossil fuel potential. Vastly increased estimates of oil and gas reserves are a serious game changer – and they should be influencing today’s energy policy far more than they are. 

We have 100 years’ supply of natural gas – a relatively clean and cheap fuel that should be at the heart of our planning. Instead, White House policy is stuck on the outmoded notion that the world was running out of oil and gas.

Instead of championing our local oil and gas producers, the Obama administration has promised to roll back tax breaks meant to encourage exploration and production, putting more onerous energy taxes at the heart of its “tax reform” agenda. 

No one is fooled. 

This isn’t about tax reform but about reallocating so-called tax expenditures to White House- favored organizations. Polling shows oil and gas companies to be unpopular, and so an easy target. Ditto the corporate jet industry. Heaven forbid the president espouse serious reform, that might undercut farmers, or ethanol producers or some other group receiving tax benefits – he might lose a vote or two.

Mitt Romney campaigns on the notion that President Obama is “out of ideas.” Certainly the president seems clueless about how to rein in gasoline prices. 

In fairness, there’s not much that can be done in the near term. The White House has fallen back on the canard that higher prices are the work of evil speculators, and has vowed a crackdown. President Obama is also mulling releasing crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves to bring down oil prices. 

This stockpile of crude oil was put in place during the 1970s, in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo, to safeguard against a sudden cut-off in supplies. The president has already opened the reserve once before when gasoline prices brought his approval ratings under pressure. 

This is a foolish gesture, which last time did nothing to rein in prices. Instead, the extra supplies were bought by the Chinese, who are filling a similar reserve. In China, officials doubtless would view an “emergency” need as a serious supply cut-off. For the Obama White House, the emergency is a dip in polls.

Liz Peek is a financial columnist who writes for The Fiscal Times. She is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. For more visit LizPeek.com.

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to FoxNews.com. She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit LizPeek.com. Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.