Petropolitics Play into Fall Elections

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr borrows the phrase "petropolitics" to explain how oil and gas prices are likely to affect the political fortunes of both parties in November's midterm elections.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. The price of oil fell again today for the third day in a row. But that is not likely to do much to stop the steep increase in the price of gasoline at the filling station down the street. The average nationwide is now $2.91 a gallon. NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been reading and thinking about the effects of the high price of oil and gas.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Petropolitics, a word coined by Tom Friedman in Foreign Policy Magazine to describe the way nations with oil tend to be less democratic than nations without oil. I borrow the term to denote the impact of oil on politics, national and international.

One reason for the spike in oil prices the experts say, is the fear that menacing America moves towards Iran may affect exports and petroleum futures. At home Exxon rolled up a record 36 billion dollars in profits last year, and its retired chairman Lee Raymond rolled up 400 million dollars as a fond farewell. The industry is contemplating a multi-million dollar educational outreach campaign. Translated, don't blame us.

The administration and Congress are striving to position themselves as sharing the pain at the pump. The pressure is greater on the Republicans simply because it happened on their watch, and people are demanding that they don't just stand there. They are trying to persuade a public that they aren't just standing there, but that there is no short-term way of getting prices down. President Bush yesterday announced some small steps like suspending purchases for the strategic reserve and encouraging the purchase of hybrid cars.

The usually industry-friendly leaders in Congress, Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senator Bill Frist, have asked the White House for an investigation into possible price gouging. The Hill newspaper says that a bill with bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee would direct anti-trust enforcement agencies to take a closer look at proposed mergers in the petroleum industry. If gas prices this summer are as painful as foreseen, the Democrats have the potential for a zinger issue in the November election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is encouraging candidates to go beyond talk of price gouging and windfall profits and talk about reform that would reduce dependence on foreign oil. None of this is likely to bring down gas prices any time soon. But that's the way the great game of petropolitics is played. This is Daniel Schorr.

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