Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Audacity of Hope?

Or The Foolhardiness of Wishful Thinking?

Obama as superhero
President Obama's lack of conviction on climate and energy policy is now undeniable. His vacillating remarks on off shore oil drilling over the past few months illustrate his lack of leadership on this, the most critical issue of his presidency.

Eric Pooley over at Grist has an excerpt from his forthcoming book which lucidly surveys the Obama Administration's timeline of timidity. He concludes:
It is a cruel irony that the epic disaster in the Gulf -- a wakeup call to the need to reduce our dependence on oil -- makes it harder to pass a bill that would help us do so. Expanded offshore drilling (and the revenue it would bring) was the chip Obama hoped to use to draw oil-state senators into a grand bargain that would also include subsidies for nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, with a modest carbon cap in return. The oil spill blew up that idea by taking expanded offshore drilling off the table, at least for now. With few chips left, Obama appears to be hoping that public anger over the spill can help drive a new version of the climate bill. Soon, we’ll know whether he really means it. Democratic leaders in the Senate have been floating the idea of an energy bill without a carbon cap -- which would be yet another failure of nerve by a group of legislators badly in need of adult supervision. Passing a real climate bill will be excruciatingly difficult. Waiting will only make it harder. It’s time for Obama to intervene on the Hill, silence the naysayers inside his own administration, harness the public mood, and make good on his promise to fight.
So this is what the audacity of hope looks like--wishing for the First Nerd to remove his figurative glasses and punch back at the bullies. But he won't. Ever cerebral, Obama doggedly appeals to the non-existent good intentions of his opponents, believing that reason and patience will yield agreement. In time, onlookers feel contempt, not sympathy. The notion that Obama will risk any political capital to lead a fight is not a bold hope, but a limp wish.

Pooley hopes that public anger will prod a sclerotic Congress into passing a climate bill. However, public anger is attenuating from the steady trickle of bad news and is increasingly eager to look for other targets, particularly within the federal government. The oil lobby and their drill shills in the chattering classes are working hard, incredibly, to recast the oil disaster as an example of why government involvement is bad. (The argument, in defiance of both reason and evidence is roughly: Regulatory oversight failed, thus regulation is worthless, and so government should do nothing, except perhaps foot the bill.) The mob is searching for scapegoats of which to make an example, and the focus is punitive rather than constructive. It is absurd to hope that the public, exhausted from bad news, beset by economic gloom, incited by partisan hacks, and frustrated by collective impotence will spur a Congress captive of corporate interests to do other than pander to the electorate while they stroke entrenched incumbents.

Hope is not a plan. Obama's unwillingness to articulate a bold plan (or even a bold hope) contributes to the perception that our government is adrift. Worse, it reinforces the belief that government is incapable of solving problems, in turn making bold action even harder. On energy policy, this will guarantee the decline of American competitiveness. It is well past time for Obama to be a leader, not a mediator.

This is a repost from the Hydrovolts blog, originally posted on 6/19/10.

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