Choose-Your-Own Economic Data Doom

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 29 2012 3:31 PM

Choose-Your-Own Economic Data Doom

The great Amy Gardner tweets a photo of a new Gingrich campaign sign. The candidate has been asking people to tweet "Newt = $2.50 gas," but what's a tweet compared to this?

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And a friend tweets this: A post-it stuck on a gas station pump. This is part of a micro-trend that dates back, at latest, to 2011.

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Where does the new wave of gas price anger come from? Well, it comes from higher gas prices. But we should be used to those. They were high one year ago, spiking because of new uncertainty in the Middle East (which hasn't really ended) and because of seasonal demands. Commodities economists could take politicians into a nice, air-conditioned room and explain this stuff to them, but they wouldn't listen. High prices are proof, for Republicans, that the Keystone Pipeline should have been approved yesterday and built at double-size. They are proof, for Democrats, that the Koch Brothers are truly heinous, "keeping oil off the market, storing it in offshore tankers and waiting to cash in when the cost of oil rises."

But most of the carping is coming from Republicans. They have a killer line: Gas prices have doubled since Obama was inaugurated. The first indication that this might be misleading: Michele Bachmann coined it. The second indication: Actual data. Look at a chart of gas prices since 2008:

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This is a true statement: At the end of 2008, gas prices were half of what they are now. The twist is that the end of 2008 was also the apocalypse. The day that Obama was sworn in, the Dow plunged to 7,949. It's now above 13,000 again. The month that Obama was sworn in, the economy shed around 600,000 jobs -- the third consecutive month with a loss that size.

Three years ago, if you wanted to point to data and say "See? This is how Obama is failing us," you had a lot to choose from, but you couldn't choose gas prices. Today, you can't really attack Obama on stock prices; the argument about unemployment is complicated, and involved discussion of the "real unemployment rate." Instead, you have to argue that commodities of all kinds -- gas prices especially -- are more expensive because of Obama's botch-ups. And that's one reason we're hearing so much about this.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.