The Keystone XL Pipeline: The Latest Reason for Republican Voters To Hate Obama

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Jan. 30 2012 2:46 PM

Pipe, Baby, Pipe

Why Republican voters are so angry about Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) stands next to a map of current oil pipelines during a news conference.
John Boehner stands next to a map of current oil pipelines during a news conference to respond to the Obama administration’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project

Alex Wong/Getty Images.

The Keystone panic is a perfect example, one that will last and last. It’s not even up to Gingrich—Republicans in Congress are hugging the pipeline so tight that it’s squeaking. House Republicans want to keep attaching pipeline approval to must-pass bills. Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, wants to pull the power of approval from the executive to the legislative branch. In his “State of the Union response,” a speech given in Tampa under a giant “OBAMA ISN’T WORKING” banner, Mitt Romney called Keystone “a real ‘shovel-ready’ project that would put 20,000 Americans back to work.” This is a general election message, even if Gingrich doesn’t get to the general election.

So we have a winning campaign line, three parts attitude to one part facts. The facts: The pipeline delay was a big victory for environmentalists (some of whom live outside of San Francisco). The delay does push approval past the election, and if Obama’s re-elected, TransCanada will probably have to come up with an alternate route. Nixing the pipeline meant nixing some number of construction jobs; labor unions were arm-in-arm with energy companies, predicting 20,000 careers if the pipeline went from Alberta to Houston, not Alberta to Vancouver.

But the pipeline means so much more. “I’ll tell you what I really think,” said Beth Campbell, after she, Gingrich, and a few thousand other people attended a church service in Lutz, Fla. “He wants us to be dependent on foreign countries.” Mary Gaulden, a Republican activist who got a picture with Gingrich after the service, explained why Obama’s lack of faith led him astray. “We don’t need regulators, we don’t need the EPA,” she said. “God created this world. He put resources here so that we could use them.” Back in the Villages, a retiree named Gerald Franck explained the pipeline delay as an example of Obama “sabotaging” the country, on purpose.

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This is petro-populism, something Gingrich has always been good at. Sarah Palin gets all the credit, but it was Gingrich who kicked off the “drill, baby, drill” meme. His slogan, expanded (of course) into a book, was “drill here, drill now, pay less.” After he coined that phrase, oil companies cut Adelson-sized checks for his 527, helping to fund a campaign much more credible-sounding than, say, the American Petroleum Institute ads that play between Sunday talk shows. Energy companies wanted something; voters wanted it, too. The trick of any good industry campaign is to blur the relationship so that no one takes credit, and to make the idea so powerful that anyone who’s opposed is addled, on the take, or worse.

Their argument is tauter than the Democrats’ argument. The oil-for-China line, for example—it’s clever to say that oil prices depend on where the boats take the barrels, not on the overall amount of oil in the market. At the Villages, as the stage and equipment is packed away, Jim Oddie explains it in baseball terms.

“You remember Pete Rose?” he asks. “He’s banned from baseball, banned from the Hall of Fame, because he bet on his team to win. Obama’s supposed to be the manager of our team. And he bets against it.