HH: Joined now by Jonathan Alter, Bloomberg View columnist, MSNBC analyst, and disappointed Harvard alum. Jonathan, our Crimson went down here today.
JA: They did. I watched the game. They made a little run at the end. You know, Rivard had these great threes all throughout, but they just weren’t as good as Vanderbilt.
HH: I’ve got to admit, I never saw them play as an undergrad. Did you ever…I went to the hockey games. I never went to a basketball game.
JA: You know, in all honesty, I have to admit that I didn’t, either. I had one friend who was on the team, and I was always going to go watch him, and I never did. And I, too, went to some hockey games and football games.
HH: It’s so funny. But at least we got there, and Northwestern still hasn’t been there. That’s all that matters.
JA: That’s right.
HH: All right, Jonathan, the President today, you wrote a great column. I find it completely baffling, but it’s very well argued from the left’s point of view on why the Keystone Pipeline would actually result in higher gasoline prices. I want you to explain that to people.
JA: Okay, here’s the deal. First of all, you know, interestingly, Trans-Canada, the owner of the company, complained about certain things in the piece, but they did not challenge the idea that in the short term, it would lead to higher gas prices. And the reason for that is that the basic point of the pipeline is to circumvent these refineries in the Upper Midwest, and the Midwest, and get the oil down to the Gulf region. There’s basically an over-supply in these refineries, which is one of the reasons that in certain parts of the Midwest, oil prices are a little bit lower, because obviously, the price comes down when there’s an over-supply. So what would happen is these, the pipeline would relieve that over-supply, and lead to lower prices. Now…lead to higher prices, because over-supply brings lower prices. So in the long term, you know, on a kind of a ten year time horizon, and the pipeline wouldn’t be completed until 2015 anyway, but on about a ten year time horizon, obviously, more supply overall will lead to lower prices. But in terms of relieving the current problem? The pipeline not only wouldn’t help, it would hurt in the short run.
HH: Now Jonathan, I, that may make a little bit of sense to some people, but I generally just view the oil market as a forward-looking international market to which supply will contribute to falling prices, and the President has been anti-supply, running a permitorium in the Gulf, running a war on oil exploration on public lands.
JA: Well, that’s just completely untrue. You know, there’s been a tremendous amount of permitting under President Obama, a lot of new exploration, including in parts of the world, parts of the United States, you know, off-shore that previous administrations had not allowed there to be exploration. So it’s a nice sliming of Obama to say you know, he’s anti-oil, he’s anti-oil exploration. But it doesn’t square with the facts. Now what he has said…
HH: So is Bobby Jindal making it up when he says that the permitorium that has been in place, de facto and expressed, is Bobby Jindal making that up?
JA: He’s clearly misleading, Hugh. Check out an article by a guy named Webber, an oil economist in the Houston Chronicle, who’s very supportive of the President’s record on oil and gas issues. Now that has to be put into the context of he wants them taxed more, because they’re making record profits. And he’s been very critical of the favors and subsidies, tax subsidies that oil and gas gets from the government, doesn’t believe that we can afford to continue to do that when they have these record profits. But that’s a very different question from…
HH: All right, Jonathan, second question then. We disagree, and I’m with Jindal, and I believe the case against Obama, especially on the public lands of the West, is air tight. But I want to know generally…
JA: It’s not, you know, Hugh, this is something you could look up.
HH: I have.
JA: It’s not air tight. In fact, it’s non-existent.
JA: Because there’s been a tremendous amount of exploration and opening up of areas for oil and gas exploration under Obama. And I urge all your listeners to actually, and just get away from pundits like you and me. Go and actually look at the record, and you’ll find out that I’m telling the truth.
HH: Ask the people of Colorado. But I want to speak more generally. Do you believe the President and what he does can impact the price of gas at the pump?
JA: Not really, no.
HH: Well now, yes or no? I mean, either…not really is kind of ambiguous.
JA: No, the reason I said not really is that you know, part of it’s a foreign policy question. So clearly, if he decided that he wanted to relieve the sanctions on Iran, and just kind of throw in the towel on that, which he’s not going to do, that would bring prices down, obviously.
HH: So why did he release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve last year, and likely to do so again this year?
JA: Well, I mean, you know, I guess, I guess that that can have some effect, but you know, do you object to that? Do you think he shouldn’t do that?
HH: Oh, I’m just saying it’s a completely partisan attempt to exploit a plummeting popularity. He’s crippled oil supply by long term anti-oil policies, and he’s taking short-term political gain by grandstanding. It makes perfect sense to me from a cynical political point of view.
JA: You still haven’t told me what the policies are that have crippled oil exploration, because the facts don’t comport with that statement. So you know, it’s a…I agree with you on a rhetorical level. He’s taking a bite out of oil companies, because he thinks that with their record profits, they shouldn’t be on the take from the federal government through corporate welfare. But you know, in terms of exploration, it’s not accurate.
HH: But Jonathan, does releasing, does releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve actually work to lower the price of gasoline at the pump?
JA: You know, honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know enough about the industry to know whether that would have that…
HH: If that answer is no, and we assume that the President has access to the best minds in the business at DOE, and he did it anyway, doesn’t that make him a cynical vote-gathering politician?
JA: Well, I think he wants votes, sure. (laughing)
JA: But I mean, if the answer is yes, I mean, if it would affect the price of gas to do that, would that make him somebody who is willing to do what it takes like Nixon before the ’72 election to get the economy in shape for reelection? Is he above doing that? No. He’s a politician, and he’ll do what he can…
HH: Jonathan, we’ve got a minute left, but I’ve got to give you a chance. You just compared Obama to Nixon.
JA: I wasn’t making a blanket comparison.
JA: But what I’m saying is that a good, tough-minded politician like a Bill Clinton, a Richard Nixon, you know, I would argue a Ronald Reagan you know, quietly doing what it takes to get things in shape in 1984. And it can often open them up to charges that they’re doing very political things to get reelected, and those charges are usually true. But does it work is really the question. And if it’s legal, then they’re going to do it.
HH: Jonathan Alter, a refreshing bit of candor, and I appreciate that from a biographer of President Obama. The Promise out in paperback, by the way. Always a pleasure, Jonathan. We grieve together over the loss of the Crimson.
End of interview.