Jerry Kremer

America’s most familiar football, political variety


Whether you knew it or not, there are many types of football games. According to Wikipedia, the roster includes Jorkyball, cycle-ball, football tennis, blind football, power chair football, rugby, traditional American football and my favorite, political football. While most of the others (except the gridiron variety) need an explanation, almost everybody knows what a political football is. And one of the best examples is the price of gasoline.
Regardless of the party in power, gas prices are used regularly as a line of attack on the incumbent leader of the country. Over the past 40-plus years, Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Biden have been the targets of public anger over the price of gasoline. And in most of those instances, the attack on the White House has been nothing more than a cheap shot for political gain.
One of the major causes of sharp hikes in gas prices is wars or political upheaval on far-away continents. In 1973, the Arab-Israeli war caused prices at the pump to skyrocket. That was followed by the Iran-Iraq War, which started in 1980. In the 1990s, the Persian Gulf War made motorists go crazy when the price per gallon spiked. While Saudi Arabia pretends to be our good friend and is always seeking more jets and defensive weapons, the Saudis periodically decide to cut back on oil production, which hits American drivers in the wallets and pocketbooks.
Another enemy of the gasoline consumer is Mother Nature. Drivers in New York may pay little attention to disasters or climate-related events in Louisiana or Texas, but an explosion at an offshore oil rig, or a major hurricane, can cause long-term disruption of gas prices. I’ve always wondered why, within minutes after a hurricane slams into one of those key Southern states, the stations around here up their prices. That anticipatory action isn’t due to a shortage; it’s just an example of greed.
For as long as I can remember, the price of gas has gone up and down during the spring and winter seasons, respectively. The jump in price as the weather warms is actually the result of the industry practice of changing the grade of the fuel to adjust to the climate. Summer gasoline costs more to produce, because it’s a special blend that is less polluting and can adapt to the heat. Even though this has been going on for the past 30 years, there are always politicians somewhere waiting to jump on their opponents to cast partisan blame.

Another reason for the summer jump in prices is that around April, most oil companies shut down their facilities for maintenance, and are slow to prepare their production for the increased demand from vacationers starting in June. If you’re looking for someone else to blame for the summer rise in the price per gallon, it’s you, me, your neighbors and countless other Americans. Most of us start taking time off in June and many of us take driving vacations, and that trend continues right through Labor Day. The extra gas we guzzle puts enormous pressure on refineries, and up go our costs.
Over a recent Saturday-night dinner, a few of my friends started complaining about the price of gasoline, and were quick to blame it on President Biden. Because he sits in the Oval Office, he’s the natural target for fuel-cost outrage. But many people forget the fact that the coronavirus pandemic caused a sharp cutback in production, and when the public decided that it was time to get out and start driving again, there wasn’t enough gasoline to meet that sudden burst of demand. That was another open invitation for the refineries to dramatically raise their prices.
As we’re seeing, virtually every basic commodity, from corn flakes to car tires, is becoming more costly, but the easiest target for a politician seeking to get a few headlines is the price of gas. There’s no more popular political football, but it’s tossed around for all the wrong reasons.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?