Has President Obama's pay-grade slipped again? He once wielded the power to stop oceans from rising, and, more recently, to revive an entire economy through targeted government spending.
But now the most powerful man in the world has met his match. On gas prices, Obama is completely powerless. And he has just burnt a year's salary's worth of jet fuel on a domestic apology tour to make that point to voters.
To be fair, Obama's newfound impotence is less a political show than his earlier superpowers were. Government really cannot do that much about gasoline prices, nor should conservatives want it to.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's promise of $2.50 gasoline insults the intelligence. As bad as our nation's (bipartisan) record of economic stimulus packages may be, our record with price-controls is worse.
But that doesn't let Obama off the hook. At the very least, the federal government can stop making the problem incrementally worse, and stop trying to deceive the public over the fact that it is doing just that.
This is the reason -- and really the only reason -- Americans are justified in their anger over Obama's performance on gas prices.
As the nation's largest landowner, and as the master of coastal waters and interstate commerce, there is a lot of harm the federal government can do in the area of energy.
Obama and his administration could have avoided the perception that they support high gas prices by pursuing modest, attainable goals such as:
(1) Don't deliberately misrepresent scientists' opinions on the Gulf oil spill in an attempt to justify a long-term moratorium on drilling off the Gulf Coast.
(2) When you lose your moratorium case in court, don't maintain an unofficial "permitorium" to prevent drilling as long as possible.
(3) Do not block private companies from adding to supply -- that is, from building oil pipelines at their own expense, after the government has had ample time to approve their construction.
(4) Do not announce a major energy speech, only to present a scheme involving algae as your big solution to the gas problem.
Having failed in each of these areas, Obama is now trying to turn his impotence on gas prices into a strength. He's arguing that "drilling alone is not an energy plan" but "a bumper sticker."
But if that's a bumper sticker, then algae barely qualifies as a small refrigerator magnet.
This argument may be Obama's best way of dealing with an angry public on the one side, and a powerful environmental lobby that he will need to win re-election on the other.
But it is a weak argument. Weak enough that his Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, felt a need to appear at the White House last Monday and defend the administration's policy.
Salazar insisted that oil and gas production on federal land is way up. "We are producing more from public lands, both oil and gas, both onshore as well as offshore, than at any time in recent memory," he said.
But Salazar's memory is apparently quite poor. Just two days later, as the Examiner's Joel Gehrke reported, the Department of Energy released a report showing that both oil and natural gas production on federal lands are down from 2010 levels.
Salazar's department contributed to the report, so he probably knew that oil and gas production on federal lands (including offshore) are also both down from 2003 levels, even as he said the opposite for the cameras.
This pattern of sleight of hand -- algae, the doctoring of scientific opinion, permitoria, and now falsehoods about the number -- goes a long way toward explaining why a recent Washington Post poll showed Obama at 65 percent disapproval on the issue.
It's not that anyone expects Obama to wave a wand and put gas at $2.50. They just expect him to level with them, and he hasn't.
David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.