Gas Prices, Propaganda, War, and Politics

I come from oil country, so does House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy. My hometown—Bakersfield, in Kern County CA—Kern County was once the top producer and has been a top three oil-producing county in the US as recently as 2014.

Both of us know he is lying when he blames: “These are President Biden’s prices.”

Petro Online, an oil industry news source, reports that on average it takes a month for oil to get pumped from the ground to complete the refining process (if it does not become part of reserves). I remember working on oil production equipment on September 11th when my boss said, “you better fill up before the prices go up.” They did.

On the House floor McCarthy says, “Democrats want to blame surging prices on Russia. But the truth is, their out-of-touch policies are why we are here in the first place.”

In reality, it’s simply laissez-faire piratical opportunism.

Until they run into trouble, corporations love to tout, and practice, free market capitalism, preferably completely unregulated. The gas stations only have a few days of product available in their tanks, and they set prices according to the “replacement cost” which the Washington Post describes as: “Every $10 increase in the price of crude oil adds about 24 cents to the cost of each gallon of gasoline and is quickly reflected in what you pay at the pump.

McCarthy knows who sets gas prices—Big Oil—and how they gouge Americans; from “January to September [2021], the net income of the group, which includes Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP, was $174bn.” Shell jumped on the opportunity to buy heavily discounted oil from Russia, and defended themselves: “We will continue to choose alternatives to Russian oil wherever possible, but this cannot happen overnight because of how significant Russia is to global supply.”

McCarthy and the GOP would blame President Biden if a solar flare affected the GPS in his smart watch, if a dog bit a child in Patagonia, and gas prices are just one more example. The politically opportunistic deceit is as deplorable as it is routine for them.

Propaganda, be it from McCarthy or Putin, is intended to foment hatred of a foe, warn of the impact losing will have, and idealize one’s own position. In this case it is particularly dangerous because McCarthy’s lies help Putin.

Putin’s propaganda is being challenged in beautiful, bold, and provocative ways by brave Russians speaking it out loud despite Putin’s brutal repression. In the end, the integrity and courage of the Russian people may be a more powerful factor in the fall of Putin than all the NATO weaponry pointed at him.

Exposing the lies of self-promoting leaders is the work of citizens everywhere.

McCarthy’s propaganda also needs to be condemned. I am all for the debate and exchange of competing ideas in a democracy but there is no room for dishonesty. The trope is timeless, and there is evidence that some votes are cast according to gas pump thinking, but it is time to finally dismiss the lie that Biden controls gas prices.

Forcing Biden to fight a propaganda war at home while trying to create peace abroad is a strategy McCarthy believes may earn him command as Speaker of the House, but innocent lives hang in the balance. Let us hope that truth also brings McCarthy’s lies down.

Wim Laven has a PhD in International Conflict Management, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Executive Boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.