In good times and bad, they must always praise Obama.
No wonder the guy is so unpopular. That was the title of a piece posted on MSNBC’s website the day after the mid-term election. The article by Steve Benen begins by quoting a portion of a monologue from the Late Show with David Letterman, in which Letterman said the following:
“Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.”
For the rest of the article, Benen hammers home the oft repeated liberal opinion that president Obama’s job performance is phenomenal, and that conservatives are disingenuous in their criticism of him, and his policies. Over the course of his piece, Benen cites several reasons Obama is performing at or above expectations, including lowering unemployment, lowering gas prices, rising stock indexes, shrinking deficit, and affordable healthcare. Here’s the thing though, he doesn’t back his claims up with anything other than glib confidence. He references a Washington Post column, which references two numbers regarding unemployment, and economic growth. That’s it. Another article, from HuffPo’s Jeff Schweitzer, claimed a “deficit of reason” was responsible for Republicans’ refusal to give credit to Obama for our lowering gas prices.
I only became aware of the article because an ardently Democratic friend of mine posted it on Facebook. Aside from the link to the article, she simply added a smiley face. It struck me as incredibly naive–not that she would share this article, but that she believed it to be a smile-inducing indictment of the stupidity, and disingenuousness of conservatives. She is a smart individual, but intelligence doesn’t matter much when one doesn’t use it to think with complexity.
There is a persistent and pervasive problem within the American liberal community, and it is a dearth of complex analysis. The left claims to have cornered the market on nuance, and intellect, but in reality, many of the Democratic persuasion have no ability, or desire, to dig beneath the surface. They are content to repeat talking points without taking the time to scrutinize the beliefs of their Party. My friend was content to share this article by Benen without examining it to make certain that what he was claiming was in fact true. So, was it true? Yes and no. It is a complicated claim to unravel, and that’s the point. I took some time, and dug a little deeper, and what I found is that while much of what Benen claims is true in a technical sense, his claims as to Obama’s ownership of these positive developments are suspect at best. Moreover, some of what he claims is positive is in fact just the opposite.
Claim #1: Obama is responsible for recent lowering gas prices.
This claim is specious because it seems that if Obama is responsible for the rising gas prices, as conservatives allege, he must then also be responsible for the lowering gas prices. This is not necessarily true, and to say so with such matter of factness is Intellectually dishonest. In his column on HuffPo, Schweitzer berates conservatives for not giving Obama credit for the falling gas prices:
“Where were the disastrous consequences of delaying the Keystone pipeline? Where were the catastrophic energy shortages due to overzealous EPA regulations? Yet not a single word from the right praising Obama for lower energy prices. He was responsible for them going up, but not coming down. Everything prominent Republicans and wing-nut pundits said about gas prices and Obama’s policies proved to be wrong.”
Why are gas prices falling? Is it Obama’s doing? No. According to quartz.com: “Since 2011, US oil production has soared by about 3 million barrels a day, to about 8.5 million barrels, thanks mostly to the technique of hydraulic fracturing in shale oil fields.”
According to The Washington Times: “Since 2009, when Mr. Obama took office, crude oil production on federal lands has slipped by more than 6 percent, but production on non-federal lands has grown by 60 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service…the CRS numbers show gas production on federal lands — measured both onshore and offshore — has dropped every year, from 5.4 billion cubic feet in 2009, to 3.9 billion cubic feet in 2013. Crude oil production on federal lands did rise from 2009 to 2010, reaching nearly 2 million barrels per day, but has since cratered, falling 16 percent to less than 1.7 million barrels a day.”
According to CBSNEWS.com: “And of course, U.S. oil and natural gas production remain at a 28-year high, due in part to the nation’s boom in shale oil. Americans are burning less gas as well, due to more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer miles being driven, especially by younger consumers. Autumn also signals the end of the peak, summer driving season and the switch-over by U.S. refineries to winter blends of gasoline, which are less costly to produce.”
Finally, according to bankrate.com: “The price of crude oil has dropped since September as concerns eased about petroleum supplies in the Middle East, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Oil is again flowing through a critical Libyan pipeline that was shut down earlier this year by striking militias.”
There are so many bits of information to sift through when looking at a question like “Why are gas prices falling?” When people like Benen, and Schweitzer—and even Letterman—give simple credit to Obama for falling gas prices, they distill a wildly complex set of circumstances down to an unsophisticated base, which is intellectually dishonest, and lazy.
Gas prices have fallen because oil prices have fallen. Advances in hydraulic fracturing of shale, and horizontal drilling have led to increased production of crude oil, which has been called “the great shale oil boom.” We are in the process of that boom, which means that naturally, this advancement has contributed to a large extent to falling gas prices. Next, the pipeline in Libya that was previously shut down due to militia activity has been reopened. This, as well as eased tensions in parts of the Middle East has led to a decrease in oil prices, which has led to a decrease in gas prices. Lastly, as was mentioned in the CBS news quote, the peak driving season is over, and winter blends are beginning to be used. This also contributes to lowering gas prices.
So gas prices have recently fallen; should we be thanking Obama? Not really. Under Obama, federal oil production has fallen, and with his refusal to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, if anything, he is slowing the fall of gas prices.
Claim #2: Under Obama, the stocks are soaring.
Are the stocks soaring under Obama? Yes they are. But we must ask why the stocks are soaring. The reason the stock market has seen historic highs is because the Fed has been pumping money into it since 2009.
According to The New York Times: “The Fed responded to the financial crisis of 2008 by purchasing trillions of dollars of bonds in the markets. The policy kept interest rates at record lows…But the Fed’s bond buying seems to have had bigger impact on Wall Street than on the real economy, where growth is below historical levels. The stimulus has helped fuel a searing six-year rally in stock, bond and real estate prices…Is it [stock market] actually capable of growing strongly without the Fed’s extraordinary efforts? Can it find sustainable strength within itself to grow organically?”
According to The Guardian: “In some ways, at least, this is an artificial bull market, one that has been fed by the lovely largesse of the Federal Reserve. Specifically, the central bank has been buying $85bn a month of Treasury bonds, flooding the bond market with so much cash that interest rates have lingered at laughably low levels.”
The market highs are simulated, they’re phony. Through quantitative easing (the Fed injecting billions into Wall Street), the stocks have rallied incredibly, but once the Fed begins to let up, the market will be on its own. Claiming that Obama is responsible for stock highs is accurate, but at what cost do those stock highs come, and if they’re not based on actual economic growth, how is that an achievement? If Barns & Nobel were lagging, and they decided that to combat their low sales, they would use their own money to buy millions of dollars worth of their own books, would that be measured as a success? No. It would be insane. It’s circular. So, are the stocks soaring under Obama? Certainly. But that’s not a good thing, nor is it a mark of an improving economy.
We are a society that loves quick answers. We love the confirmation of our own beliefs, and too often, we do little to examine the details of those confirmations. Benen’s article is an extraordinarily lazy argument. It claims that A equals B, but then fails to tell us how, or why. This is likely deliberate. This article is then viewed by low-information liberal voters as confirmation of their love of Obama.
Tomorrow, I’ll examine Benen’s final claims to see if they stand up to scrutiny (hint: they don’t).