Price of gas when Obama took office: $1.81

by January 22, 20124 comments

$1.81: The price of gas when Obama took office

$1.81: The price of gas when Obama took office.

In the past few days, I have seen this meme spreading on Facebook — and back in September, Michele Bachmann was saying, “The day that President Obama took office, gasoline was $1.79 a gallon.”

Many Facebook commenters instinctively suspect that something is wrong with the figure, that the price of gasoline could not possibly have been so low just three years ago. To some, it must therefore be B.S.

Thanks to the Internet, however, we can actually look things up. The U.S. Energy Information Administration keeps records of the prices of petroleum. You can see similar historical gas price charts at

As it turns out, the figure is true enough. Look at this graph:

Graph of gas prices during Bush and Obama administrations, 2001-2011

See the arrow where President Obama takes office? The price of unleaded, regular gasoline in January 2009 was $1.79. Obama assumed office on January 20, 2009. The February gasoline price was $1.93. So yes, $1.81 sounds about right.

But now look at the six months before Obama took office. The price dropped from $4.09 in July to just $1.69 in December. The price of gasoline was actually higher under President Bush than it has ever been since — yet it suddenly dropped like a rock in the months before President Obama took office.

What was happening during that time which might account for such a price drop?

Oh, I remember now! The U.S. economy collapsed in mid-September, resulting in the Great Recession — the greatest financial disaster since the Great Depression. A month before the election on October 11, the Dow fell 679 points, making for the worst day in Wall Street’s worst week ever. Job losses in December — the month before Obama took office — were the worst in 60 years. When the economy comes to a screeching halt like that, it really affects gasoline demand, and therefore prices for a time. And now Republicans have the nerve to pass it off as a golden moment in our history.

It’s funny how just three years after the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, many Americans have already forgotten how disasterously Bush’s presidency ended and instead blame Obama for any residual discomfort. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George W. Bush leaves office

Do you long for the days of a ruined economy and some briefly cheap gasoline? Then vote Republican this November, and we may get to relive it all over again.

Update, 2/23/2012:

Speaking at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, President Obama addressed America’s energy policy and efforts by Republicans to use world oil prices to their advantage:

You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their 3-point plan for $2 gas. And I’ll save you the suspense. Step one is to drill and step two is to drill. And then step three is to keep drilling. (Laughter.) We heard the same line in 2007 when I was running for President. We hear the same thing every year. We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years.

Well, the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling. That’s a bumper sticker. It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. (Applause.) That’s a strategy to get politicians through an election.

As the New York Times has reported, Newt Gingrich is one of the candidates shrieking the loudest about oil prices — even though his drilling plans would do virtually nothing to affect the market:

A study in 2009 by the government’s Energy Information Administration found that with unlimited offshore drilling, the country would produce 500,000 more barrels a day, but on the world market, that would translate to prices of only 3 cents a gallon less for American drivers.

Over on CNN, Ben Stein — so Republican that he was a speechwriter and lawyer for presidents Nixon and Ford — explains that the oil market is global and not under the control of any president “any more than he has control of the wind and the weather.”

If you wonder just how global gas prices really are, take a look at a chart of gas prices in six European countries and the USA from 1996 through October of last year. Gas prices in all of these countries mirror each other almost perfectly the entire 16 years. They don’t just go up or down in the US because of who is president here. They go up or down all over the world.

Update, 3/8/2012:

Appearing on ABC’s The View, Bill O’Reilly is seen here flip-flopping on gas prices when compared against his previous opinion by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz.

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