LARGO, Md. -- President Obama fired back at the Republican presidential field Thursday, likening their collective criticisms about his alternative-energy policies to those who once allowed their fears of falling off the Earth prevent them from exploring new opportunities.
"If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the 'Flat Earth Society,'" the president told an adoring crowd in Prince George's County. "They would not believe that the world was round.
"We've heard these folks in the past," Obama added. "'Television won't last. It's a flash in the pan' ... 'The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a fad.'"
It was the second time this week that the president has rebutted Republican critics who are trying to blame him for soaring gas prices. The administration on Monday issued a report that showed domestic oil production is at an eight-year high despite Republican claims that Obama had stifled production, contributing to higher prices at the pump.
The GOP called on Obama to open more land for oil and gas drilling, to continue multibillion dollar tax breaks for the oil industry, and to reduce federal spending on alternative energy.
"[President Obama] has not pursued policies that convince the world that America is going to become energy secure, energy independent," GOP contender and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Thursday on Fox News. "He held off drilling in the Gulf, he's held off drilling out of [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], he said no to the Keystone pipeline from Canada .... We need a president to open up these things."
The Republican attacks appear to have taken a toll. Some polls show as many as two-thirds of Americans disapproving of the president's handling of gas prices even while the administration argues that soaring prices are largely the result of unrest in the Middle East.
One Republican presidential contender, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has gone so far as to pledge that, as president, he would lower the price of gas to $2.50. But there is little any president can do to do to affect prices at the pump, Obama noted, let alone set the price.
"Every time prices start to go up -- especially in an election year -- politicians dust off their three-point plans for $2 gas," Obama said. "I guess this year they decided, we're going to make it $2.50. Why not $2.40? Why not $2.10?"
"I guess we could try to have, like, 200 oil rigs in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay," he said.