President Obama coined a new campaign line on Thursday when he said Republican presidential candidates' views on energy policy qualifies them as members of the "Flat Earth Society."
Speaking to a crowd in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, Obama charged that the GOP contenders are dismissive of alternative energy and compared them to those who thought Columbus shouldn’t set sail.
"We've heard these folks in the past," Obama said. "'Television won’t last. It's a flash in the pan.' ... 'The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a fad.'"
While the president riffed on the idea in a joking tone, his speech at Prince George's Community College revealed a very serious undercurrent running through his White House right now. The president has few tools to check the rising cost of gasoline in the short term, and his advisors are acutely aware of the effect this could have on voters.
Of course, Obama has not always been above embracing the quick-hit solution on gas prices. During the 2008 campaign, as prices jumped, then-candidate Obama proposed a windfall profits tax on energy companies and said he'd use the money to give taxpayers a $1,000 energy rebate. But the proposal faded and never came to pass, after gas prices fell and the recession hit.
As the incumbent now, gas prices present a real threat to Obama. On Thursday, he unveiled a new campaign-style take on the situation -– employing humor and mockery to make his central point of defense: that there is no short-term solution to the problem of fluctuating gas prices.
Republican candidates focus a great deal on domestic sources of oil, arguing that quicker approval of more such projects would create American jobs and reduce reliance on foreign oil. Critics of the administration say Obama lets environmental concerns get in the way of economic progress.
Obama joked that, using the lessons of his daughter's elementary school math homework, one can conclude that a country using 20% of the world's oil can't get by on domestic reserves that make up 2% of it -– even by drilling at treasured sites like the National Mall, Chesapeake Bay and "at your house."
“They've been talking down new sources of energy," Obama said of the Republicans. "They dismiss wind power. They dismiss solar power. They make jokes about biofuels."
"There have always been folks like that," Obama said, quoting President Rutherford B. Hayes as saying the telephone was a great invention that no one would ever want to use.
"That’s why he's not on Mt. Rushmore," Obama said.