Engaging in cynically self-serving partisan behavior to win elections sounds profoundly corrupt. Engaging in cynically self-serving partisan destructive behavior to “save democracy” … well, that sounds profoundly rational. And so it goes.
“We find ourselves in a situation, where keeping gas prices low is key to preserving and strengthening the future of our democracy,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes admitted last night. “And so here we are. Hence, Biden releasing oil from the reserves today.”
There is no policy justification for emptying the emergency strategic oil reserve right now. Just as there is no reason to use emergency powers to force taxpayers to foot the bill for graduate student loans. Just as there is no foreign policy justification for threatening the Saudis to keep production high until the midterms when you keep undercutting domestic production and capacity.
The crass partisanship is even worse than Hayes lets on, since emptying the strategic reserve is a little more than political kabuki theater. The Energy Department is going to release 15 million barrels this week so that families will have some “breathing room,” says the president. But the United States uses nearly 20 million barrels every day. Fifteen million barrels might be useful in a national disaster — which we would be unprepared for right now — but in this environment, it does nothing but give Democrats “breathing room” to pretend they’re doing something.
“I have been doing everything in my power to reduce gas prices since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine caused these price hikes — these prices to spike and rattled international oil markets,” Biden said Wednesday. When Biden told a town hall audience in September 2019 that he would end all new drilling on federal lands, the national average for a gallon of gas was $2.56. That was more than two years before Putin invaded Ukraine. When Biden was inaugurated, long before the Russian invasion, the price of a gallon was $2.38. It was one cent higher when he signed an executive order pausing all new government leases on public lands — where nearly a quarter of American oil extraction takes place. Since then, Biden has handed out the fewest new leases for a president early in his administration since World War II.
Putin hadn’t invaded Ukraine the day Biden killed the Keystone pipeline, and with it 830,000 barrels per day – around 25 million a month —which was scheduled to open in only a few months. Nor had he invaded Ukraine when the Interior Department stopped pursuing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. All these actions put us in a precarious position when the inevitable international event shook the market.
Biden can’t control prices, of course, but there are plenty of things he could do to mitigate the pain outside of incentivizing production. Instead of easing sanctions on the socialist kleptocracy in Venezuela, or begging authoritarian cartels to drill more until the midterms, Biden could repeal the Jones Act and lower costs. He won’t because Democrats need union cash. Biden could help increase domestic production by pressuring governors to overturn fracking bans, but he won’t, because he needs to pacify the climate warriors.
Instead, Biden spins Bernie Sanders-style conspiracy theories about oil company cabals and price gouging. It’s amazing that it took decades for these CEOs to concoct a plan to control a fungible commodity, not to mention the layers of taxes and costs and unpredictable events that impact price. Even if the president’s ham-fisted populist messaging was working, why would the oil industry plow billions into new projects when Democrats promise to destroy their business in a few years? Eliminating the fossil industry, we should not forget, is one of the central objectives of the Democratic Party.
Even now, Biden is still babbling on about increasing American oil production “without delaying or deferring our transition to clean energy.” If you allow the availability of reliable and, generally, affordable energy to increase, no one will use “clean” energy. Why do you think the left pushes price-fixing schemes, mandates, and subsidies, and creates artificial scarcity for the competition? Some people believe we must unwind modernity to save the planet. If Chris Hayes is willing to sacrifice the planet in 2022 to “save democracy,” what about 2024 or 2028? Will there be one-party rule by then? Will we be completely reliant on windmills and sunshine by then?
One strongly suspects the next time Democrats push a climate bill, it too will exist to save democracy. What doesn’t these days?
Right now, though, emptying the strategic reserve for some short-term political gain, and promising to refill it at high prices, is at best stupid and at worst corrupt. But I guess if you plug “save democracy” into your moral calculus, you can rationalize anything.