Passing the Political Football
Let's face it, we are a country that loves our football. I'm not talking about the wimpy European kind where world-class athletes fall to the ground in the throes of agony whenever there is any type of physical contact -- real or imagined -- most of which wouldn't even be a violation in any major American sport. No, Americans like the kind where you brutally punish your opponent into submission, score some impressive touchdowns along the way, tally the points, walk off the field and then prepare to return the next week to do the very same thing. The only thing wrong with our football is the fact that there is an offseason, which for most of us, is interminably long.
Fortunately, however, our political and governing systems guarantee that we get to enjoy football all year round. Our process has long been replete with sacred cow issues over which both sides bludgeon each other, run up the points, run out the clock without a winner, and then come back the next week to do it all over again on some other issue. A couple of timeless gems for me are gun control, abortion and global warming.
The inverse ratio of the amount of grandstanding and political demagoguery on these issues relative to the amount of actual legislative and/or regulatory action is staggering. Over the last 30 years, rarely has so much vitriol and money been expended, political careers begun or ended, or the political landscape so polarized by these issues with so little meaningful policy outcome.
As enjoyable as those issues are to watch, my favorite match-up every year comes late in the Spring (or even earlier in Presidential election cycles) when we kick off the gas price game. This annual rite of passage pits the most-entrenched elements of both parties against each other in an unrelenting ideological battle that shares all the characteristics described earlier, but in itself, actually has the ability to sway voter attitudes and affect elections.
On one sideline, you have the Red team. To be a starter for the Reds, you must be completely fixated on the production side of the ledger. Your fans chant, "Drill, Baby, Drill!" from the bleachers and to prove your commitment to the cause, you must never, under any circumstances, utter phrases like "conservation," "renewable energy" or "fuel efficiency." Such heresy would relegate you to the bench forever and you would likely be put on waivers in the form of a primary opponent in your next election.
On the other sideline is the Blue team. To start for the Blues, you have to be equally fixated, but on the consumption side of the ledger. Some of their brightest stars live in a bubble where there is no acknowledgment of the dependence of the world economy on oil, and its effect on our own domestic economy and security. Similarly, the quickest path to the Blue bench is to let phrases slip like "domestic production," "exploration of the Gulf" and "opening up ANWAR." Not only will you be benched, you will wake up the next day and find that a Birkenstock-wearing retread from the "Occupy" movement has filed to challenge you in a primary.
As both sides bludgeon each other senseless with the usual non-outcome, there is one tie that binds. The game is going nowhere so, "Let's blame the Commissioner, Barack Obama!" The Blues think he has not done enough to push alternative technology, mandate fuel efficiency increases for Detroit, or lead a national dialogue on conservation. They think he has been weak on curbing our appetite for oil and that our gluttony continues to put upward pressure on demand and thus prices. The Reds, meanwhile, think he has not done enough to open up domestic production and put more supply on the world market, bringing prices down and, in doing so, make us less vulnerable to the chaos that is the Middle East. Finally, we have consensus: "It's Obama's fault!" Evidently, both teams like red herrings.
As any person not trying to hustle a vote -- or a campaign check out of you -- will tell you, the President, of course, has very little to do with gas prices and virtually no ability to control them. I have every confidence that the Reds were equally harsh with oilman George W. Bush when he couldn't "control" spikes in gas prices. They weren't? I'm shocked. Oh, that's right, this is a game of political football. The President has about as much control over the price of oil on the world market as he has over any other commodity. If the President could actually influence the prices of world commodities, he and I should have had a talk about the price of diamonds before my recent 20th wedding anniversary.
A recent Gallup poll suggests that nearly two-thirds of the country disapproves of how Obama is "handling gas prices" and feels he should "do more." Alas, more sage insight from John Q. Public. History shows us that within the next few weeks, we will get the time-tested (and universally ignored) calls for the President to tap the strategic petroleum reserves. That rhetoric usually comes just before Memorial Day and let me tell you, that train is always on time.
Fortunately for convenience store owners, they get to see this play out right in front of them every day. They have box seats to the annual Gas Gridiron Classic and will be witness to the impact that gas prices will have on November's election. It should be another barn-burner. Let the games begin… I mean, continue.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Parquet Public Affairs, a national issue management, communications, government relations and reputation assurance firm that specializes in service-sector industries. Parquet's clients include Fortune 500 corporations, trade associations, regional businesses and non-profit organizations. For more information, go to www.ParquetPA.com.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.