Candy everybody wants
I'm currently reading a book on the journey of petroleum from the oil fields to the gas pump and one stop on the tour was the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The author observes that SPR has become a "highly politicized tool" and there have been only a handful of releases over the past decade: President Clinton tapped the reserve in 2000 during a heating oil crunch, the first President Bush released oil when prices spiked at the start of the Gulf War, and Dubya released 12 million barrels immediately after Hurricane Katrina.
The SPR was started in the mid-seventies after the 1973 oil shock made it clear that the U.S. needed a hedge against large-scale supply disruptions as well as a minimum supply in case of war or some other calamity. As the examples above indicate, Presidents have used very small releases from the 700 million barrel reserve to tamp down prices. The author writes: "When the reserve released a comparatively puny 17 million barrels of oil in January 1991, for the first Gulf War, prices fell from $27 a barrel to $21."
So we have war, a hurricane, and people freezing in the winter. Now the once-responsible Barack Obama has flipped his position on tapping into the SPR and called for a release of 70 million barrels. Why so much and why now? There's been no national calamity (except for a complete disregard for the supply side of the oil equation) and no sudden spike to justify such a large release from the SPR. Quite to the contrary, we've watched as oil prices have drifted skyward while Washington dithers, then skips town.
But gas prices are high and Americans don't like it. So instead of proposing legislation or real answers, Obama panders to this dissatisfaction and offers the easy answer: let's just take some from that big pile. I can't imagine a ploy more cynical than if he just offered to send every American a big check from money seized by those evil oil companies.
Oops, too late.
Extra - I was incorrect to characterize Obama's change in position on SPR as a "flip-flop." As Gateway Pundit notes, it was "a redefining of a previous inartful position."