We’re done for the time being with the old shiny object so here’s a new shiny object to play with: O calling on Congress to beef up regulations on oil speculators. Watch the clip below for a snippet of his Rose Garden remarks plus the amusing reaction from CNN’s Ali Velshi, who can’t understand how Obama could walk away after claiming that “this is how we solve the problem” of higher gas prices. In fairness, here’s what he said:
We’ve got to continue the hard, sustained work on this issue. And as long as I’m President we’re going to keep placing our bets on America’s future — America’s workers, America’s technology, America’s ingenuity, and American-made energy. That’s how we’re going to solve this problem once and for all.
He’s not saying that cracking down on oil speculators will solve the problem, he’s saying an all-of-the-above approach on energy will solve it, of which punishing speculators is now apparently one part. That said, Velshi’s right that this is essentially a gimmick that won’t do much to lower gas prices. (Romney attacked Obama today on precisely that point.) What you’re seeing here, a la the Buffett Rule, is the White House hyping a small part of a potential solution with undue fanfare to get voters’ attention. Obama himself admitted recently that the Buffett Rule won’t do much to reduce the deficit but that didn’t stop him and Biden from delivering four speeches on it in four days. The public tends to assume, I think, that when the president carves out time to address a policy matter publicly, that matter must be important and pressing. If he addresses it repeatedly in a short span, imagine how much more important it must be. That’s why, I think, Paul Ryan described the Buffett Rule as “pixie dust” when it comes to deficit reduction: Obama’s never presented it as a magical solution but a low-information voter who isn’t tracking his every word may very well think it’s a magical solution given how much attention O seems to be paying it. Same thing here. We’ve got a Rose Garden ceremony, we’ve got Holder and Geithner standing beside the podium — obviously, to borrow a phrase from Biden, this is a big effing deal. But … it really isn’t. It’s just basic retail stagecraft designed to show that Obama’s doing something about gas prices, the 2012 equivalent of “message: I care.” Presumably Reid will push a vote on it sooner rather than later and the GOP will filibuster, and that’ll hand O a new talking point about the “party of oil speculators” or whatever.
Exit question: How many of these weekly or biweekly shiny policy objects do most voters remember on election day? They’re here for a week and then gone for two months and then back for a few days and then gone again. For instance, until Politico wrote about it this morning, I’d completely forgotten about Obama’s idea of a “windfall profits” tax on oil companies — and I’m someone who keeps up with politics day to day. Does any of this crap really register with voters, even in an impressionistic way (e.g., “Obama’s proposing solutions”)? How many voters on election day will be able to explain the Buffett Rule in a single sentence, or even in multiple sentences? The shiny-object strategy of campaigning seems less and less a strategy designed to win votes and more a strategy designed to give these endless campaigns something to talk about for a few days.