Mulhall column: Jimmy Carter 2.0
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Ban the oil coming from Russia. I’m all for that.”
Later that same day White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said we have no “strategic interest” in banning imports on Russian oil.
Overt disagreement between congressional will and executive interest aren’t that uncommon — unless they arise within the same party. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has piqued everyone’s concern, and for good reason.
Maybe it’s overly simplistic to think that if petroleum products are theoretically finite and we’ve already passed the high point of earth’s petroleum production (“peak oil”), you’d maintain a strategic advantage by importing — and consuming — the petroleum resources of other nations first.
It’s the dodo bird’s solution to resource management.
As simple as that sounds, perhaps it omits “nuance.” Maybe you need to include incentives for Americans to broaden the kinds of energy we routinely use and develop an energy balance that’s sustainable over time.
Such long-range thinking doesn’t strike me as near enough to the money for Democrat energy policy to be what it is.
Nevertheless, President Biden finds himself in an interesting quandary.
If he continues importing Russian oil, he’s funding Putin’s military aggression.
That’s a foreign policy fail.
On the other hand, if President Biden blocks Russian oil imports without compensating for the shortfall, he’s assuring higher gas prices, higher transportation costs, and higher inflation at a time when current energy costs are spinning American household budgets out of control.
Last February, the Labor Department reported that the consumer price index rose 7.5% over the previous 12 months. That’s greater that any one-year period since 1982. For gasoline and electricity, the rise was even sharper at a blistering 27%.
That’s an economic fail.
President Biden’s quandary in some ways parallels that of former President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Both presidents faced inflation due to high energy prices, low public opinion ratings, and serious implications to global energy supplies.
In 1979, with approval numbers flagging at 26%, President Carter gave the “Crisis of Confidence” speech in which he scolded Americans that “in a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.”
What followed was inaction. It was one thing to point out what President Carter saw as an unfortunate American character defect. It was quite another to lead Americans toward a solution.
To be fair, it was a tall order. How do you curb “indulgence and consumption” without further throttling an economy constrained by unemployment and inflation? Unfortunately, President Carter couldn’t offer Americans a solution he didn’t have.
And he didn’t.
Four months later, Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens hostage. By the time they were released 444 days later, Americans were done with President Carter, but not with high energy prices.
A few days ago, while we waited to see what effect the President’s bank-account-freezing “sanctions” would have, the President suddenly blocked the import of Russian oil.
No one saw that coming, including Jen Psaki.
Before President Biden’s 2020 inauguration, the US had plenty of oil and natural gas. Expanded exploration, extraction, and fracking made us so energy flush that the US became a net energy exporter. This helped keep global oil prices low enough to economically contain Russia, Iran and Venezuela.
Two years later, after signaling to the world a shutdown in US production with an executive order to halt the Keystone Pipeline and one year after signing an infrastructure bill that distributes billions of taxpayer dollars as clean energy incentives, the President now blames “Big Oil” for halting US production.
At least he’s not blaming Americans for indulgence and consumption, yet.
On Tuesday, the President called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, against whom US sanctions exist, and the Saudis, who the President called “pariahs” during a 2019 debate, to increase exports of their bitumen- and sulfer-heavy oil. This could help— if he can get anyone to pick up the phone.
Of course, neither is a particularly clean option, which won’t sit well with the Green New Deal crowd, but electorally speaking, it may be better than obscene gas prices.
Fortunately for the President, oil is a fungible commodity, so the autocrat you buy it from matters less than having enough to go around.
The resulting game of “musical tyrants” is, in a nutshell, a moral compromise that comes with reliance on foreign oil, which, among other things, makes the climate change agenda a price money can’t measure.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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