Biden Needs to Decide Whether High Gas Prices Are Good or Bad

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Drew Angerer/Getty
Drew Angerer/Getty

Joe Biden keeps saying the quiet part out loud. As gas prices continue to skyrocket, he’s suggesting that maybe high prices are a feature, not a bug: “We have a chance to make a fundamental turn toward renewable energy, electric vehicles, and across the board,” he said on Monday.

This was not a one-time gaffe. Last month, the president said, “[W]hen it comes to the gas prices, we’re going through an incredible transition that is taking place that, God willing, when it’s over, we’ll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when this is over.”

On one hand, we are told that Biden is “obsessed with the fact that gas prices are so high and people are hurting,” as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm put it. On the other hand, the president keeps suggesting that high gas prices are a necessary ingredient for his transformational presidency. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to take him at his word.

And yet, this very notion is political death. I mean, rising gas prices are so politically toxic that Ron Klain, Biden’s top strategist, is reportedly fixated on the fact that gas stations post their prices on large signs. “Could they advertise anything else?” Klain “rhetorically and ruefully” said, according to Politico.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Ron Klain, Biden’s top strategist, is reportedly fixated on the fact that gas stations post their prices on large signs.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Brandon Bell/Getty</div>

Ron Klain, Biden’s top strategist, is reportedly fixated on the fact that gas stations post their prices on large signs.

Brandon Bell/Getty

Maybe instead of lamenting gas station signage, Klain should worry about his candidate’s words. Even if you believe that someday we will (and should!) all be driving electric cars (Biden’s plan calls for half of all new cars sold in America to be electric by 2030), and even if you oppose increasing oil production for environmental reasons, consider how out-of-touch Biden sounds right now.

The cheapest Tesla on the market sells for $46,990 (in some places, this can be cut by virtue of rebates or tax credits). And the price of electric car charging is up, too. Telling a working mom who can’t currently pay to fill her tank about the benefits of owning an electric car is like telling someone living in a hovel they invest in solar panels. It makes liberals sound like elitists, bordering on let-them-eat-cake territory.

We can talk all day about the “long-term savings” associated with owning an electric vehicle (they practically pay for themselves!), but that won’t mean much to the person raiding his kids’ piggy bank for gas money in order to make it to work. The eventual move to electric cars is not going to comfort working Americans who are struggling today. And the problem for Joe Biden is that he’s president right now, not in 2030.

The most flattering way of putting this would be to say that we have a visionary president who is focused on long-term solutions, while a lot of Americans are struggling right now. But by playing Mr. Brightside, Biden is raising suspicions that he cares more about social engineering than about the little guy.

Of course, when weighing tradeoffs, it’s also worth questioning how much better for the environment electric cars really are. Once again, there are enough caveats to make Biden’s message less than clear.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>The cheapest Tesla on the market sells for $46,990. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Brendan McDermid/Reuters</div>

The cheapest Tesla on the market sells for $46,990.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

While experts agree that electric cars are generally (and increasingly) more environmentally friendly than gas cars, the most important question is how the electricity is generated.

If the electricity is generated from renewables or nuclear energy, it’s obviously preferable to the internal combustion engine. But as Jeremy Michalek, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of engineering, told The New York Times: “If you’ve got electric cars in Pittsburgh that are being plugged in at night and leading nearby coal plants to burn more coal to charge them, then the climate benefits won’t be as great, and you can even get more air pollution.”

And that’s not the only caveat. As the Times also goes on to note that “the lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials—like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements—that have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns.”

Biden Isn’t Taking His Presidency Seriously

The point is not to diminish the utility of electric vehicles, but to emphasize that their current environmental benefit is not as clear cut as some might think. And more to the point, to the average American, Biden sounds tin-eared.

To be fair, Biden’s administration wants to tamp down on the notion that there is a “silver lining” to be found in high gas prices—but all you have to do is listen to the president’s own words. He keeps suggesting that this is, yeah, maybe a difficult time, but it will lead us into the promised land of cars that run on hope, change, and… unicorn farts. At least, that’s how it must sound to a lot of skeptical and frustrated Americans.

Count this as merely the latest stumble of a White House that increasingly looks like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

I suspect that Biden’s confused stand on gas prices is a microcosm of a presidency that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. On one hand, Biden wants to be a transformational progressive. On the other hand, Biden wants to be Joey from Scranton—a centrist who connects with average Americans.

Maybe a younger, more adept president could find a way to be both. Instead, Joe Biden looks to be a tired president who is already running out of gas.

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