Thursday, June 26, 2008

Obama on energy: moonshot vs. 'gimmicks'

Obama is deadly selective when hammering McCain's policy proposals. In a speech laying out his energy policy delivered in Las Vegas on June 24, Obama skewered McCain's energy proposals as a series of gimmicks and tired nostrums. The broader frame was that gimmicks and nostrums are all that "Washington" has offered on the energy front for decades -- a way of making McCain seem very old indeed ("For decades, John McCain has been a part of this failure in Washington"). A couple of samplings:

On McCain's proposal to put up the biggest prize money in human history:
I commend him for his desire to accelerate the search for a battery that can power the cars of the future. I've been talking about this myself for the last few years. But I don't think a $300 million prize is enough. When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn't put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win – he put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people. That's the kind of effort we need to achieve energy independence in this country, and nothing less will do. But in this campaign, John McCain offering the same old gimmicks....
On McCain's support for offshore drilling:
Just yesterday, Senator McCain actually admitted this [that offshore drilling will provide neither short-term relief nor a significant impact on our long-term oil supply]. In a town hall he said, and I quote, "I don't see an immediate relief" but "the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial." Psychological impact. In case you were wondering, that's Washington-speak for, "It polls well." It's an example of how Washington politicians try to convince you that they did something to make your life better when they really didn't. Well the American people don't need psychological relief or meaningless gimmicks to get politicians through the next election, they need real relief that will help them fill up their tanks and put food on their table. They need a long-term energy strategy that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil by investing in the renewable sources of energy that represent the future. That's what they need.
In this context, ridiculing McCain's proposed gas tax holiday was shooting fish in a barrel. Obama contrasted the 30 cents per day it would save "you" with his own proposals for short-term relief via stimulus and middle class tax cut - 30 cents per day vs. $1000 per household. McCain's proposal for 45 new nuclear power plants gave Obama the chance for a local blow -- McCain wants to build them "without a plan to store the waste some place other than right here at Yucca Mountain." Again the theme: "Folks, these are not serious energy policies." Gimmicks.

The broadest contrast, however, was between Obama's commitment to invest Federal money and provide sweeping tax incentives for energy innovation versus McCain's resistance to major investment. To draw this contrast, he turned McCain's attack on him for voting for the pork-laden 2005 energy bill on its head:
He's voted against biofuels. Against solar power. Against wind power. Against a 2005 energy bill that represented the largest ever investment in renewable sources of energy – a bill that Senator McCain's own campaign co-chair, called "the biggest legislative breakthrough we've had" since he's been in the Senate. That bill certainly wasn't perfect – it contained irresponsible tax breaks for oil companies that I consistently opposed, and that I will repeal as President. But the tax credits in that bill contributed to wind power growing 45% last year, the sharpest rise in decades. If John McCain had his way, those tax credits wouldn't exist. And if we don't renew key tax incentives for alternative energy production – tax incentives that John McCain opposed continuing – we could lose up to 116,000 green jobs and $19 billion in investment just next year. And now he's talking about a tax credit for more efficient cars even though he helped George Bush block these credits twice in the last year.
Inadvertently, perhaps, this attack highlights the Hobson's choices senators face in such omnibus bills: McCain voted against the oil industry subsidies, Obama says he voted for the tax incentives for alternatives. On the merits, the advantage may be McCain's: this paragraph lambastes him for voting against two huge pork giveaways, the oil industry subsidies in the energy bill, and the counterproductive ethanol subsidies in the monser farm bill that Obama also voted for. But Obama is a master against stitching together a theme: McCain has consistently voted against alternative energy subsidies.

Incidentally, Obama's defense here of his energy bill vote may signal a new theme, echoed in the qualified support he offered the FISA compromise this week. In both cases, he asserted that the bill he supported wasn't perfect, but that it contained important benefits, and that as President he'll fix its flaws. That's all a senator can do. Instead of "I was before it before I was against it," I'm for part of it, against another part, and when I'm President I'll fix the part I'm against."

Related posts:
We've been here before: How Obama frames U.S. history
Audacity of Respect: What Obama Owes to Reagan II
Obama's Metapolitics
Obama gets down to tax brass
Obama brings it back to earth in Virginia
Feb. 5: Hillary's Speech was Better than Obama's
Truth and Transformation
Obama Praises Clinton, and Buries Him

1 comment:

  1. Excellent informational post, thank you! Great breakdown.