The Obama Watch

An Isolated President Sings to the Choir

Time is eerily standing still at the Obama White House.

By 10.4.10

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Having spent the last month and a half outside the United States, I returned home late last week wondering what had changed in the land of the free. Where to go to find out? Though this will sound counter-intuitive to most readers, my first stop was www.whitehouse.gov.

No change there, I thought, unless you count Rahm Emanuel's departure as a significant event, which I don't. One has the eerie sense that time has been standing still for the Obama White House. If the sun has risen or set at any time over the past 45 days, the Obama White House seems not to have noticed. It is locked away in its own little dream world, undisturbed by anything that is happening in the real world. So what if a clear majority of Americans have come to the conclusion that the government is choking off a recovery through too much spending and too much regulation and intervention? So what if this government has become a walking advertisement for the fact that big and quasi-socialist government doesn't work and never will?

The same obliviousness -- the same obtuseness -- seems to extend across the length and breadth of so-called Ruling Class, a category that includes Hollywood, Silicon Valley and academia -- plus anyone else who is foolish enough (and sufficiently detached from economic reality) to go along with President Obama in the some of the more laughable expressions of "progressive" ideology. 

Exhibit A here has to be the preposterous belief in solar energy as a cure-all for the nation's problems. George Orwell once said that some things were so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. Apart from the intellectuals (and some of the super rich and super famous in Hollywood and Santa Clara County), is there anyone in this country who seriously believes that solar energy is going to provide hundreds of thousands of new jobs for Americans over the next few years? Still more, is there anyone who seriously believes that it is going to cause the waters to recede, the planet to heal and -- get this! -- Team USA to surge ahead of India and China in science, math, and long-term economic growth?

President Obama believes in all that stuff, or says that he does. And increasingly he is preaching only to the already converted -- feeling no need to connect with others who can only roll their eyes in disbelief.

Here are some of the effusions from his latest weekly address:

For decades, we've talked about the importance of ending our dependence on foreign oil and pursuing new kinds of energy, like wind and solar power. But for just as long, progress has been prevented at every turn by special interests and their allies in Washington.

So year after year, our dependence on foreign oil grew. Families have been held hostage to spikes in oil prices. Good manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. And we've seen companies produce new energy technologies and high-skilled jobs not in America, but in countries like China, India and Germany.

Let's pause here for few comments to examine the veracity of what is being asserted. Who are these countries "like" China, India and Germany? Are they, in fact, China, India and Germany? Then why not say so? But where is the proof that those countries -- or any others -- have produced large numbers of highly-skilled jobs in wind or solar power? Is there a single reputable study to show that these countries -- or any others -- are leap-frogging the U.S. in critical technologies through a concentration on wind and solar power?

To back up a little further, I don't get the connection between higher oil prices and "good manufacturing jobs" going overseas? Could you please explain, Mr. President? And what is this business about "special interests and their allies in Washington" which have supposedly impeded progress in wind and solar power? Can the president cite a single instance of Big Oil or other businesses doing anything to quash wind or solar power (other than complain about excessive subsidies)?

Let us proceed then to the president's peroration, which is all about jobs, jobs, jobs: 

It was essential -- for our economy, our security, and our planet -- that we finally tackle this challenge. This is why, since we took office, my administration has made an historic commitment to promote clean energy technology. This will mean hundreds of thousands of new American jobs by 2012. Jobs for contractors to install energy-saving windows and insulation. Jobs for factory workers to build high-tech batteries, electric cars, and hybrid trucks. Jobs for engineers and contraction crews to create wind farms and solar plants that are going to double the renewable energy we can generate in this country. These are the jobs building the future.

But is there anything more than rhetoric -- or the "audacity of hope" -- to back up any one of those claims in this drumbeat of assertions? How much energy is this administration planning to get from renewable sources? Does it really propose to replace -- let's say -- half or even a quarter of the nation's demand for oil through wind and solar power? It certainly doesn't sound like it from the sentence I have highlighted toward the end of the passage cited above. Since the contribution of renewable sources to the nation's total energy requirement is so small to begin with (only about 1 percent), to double it would be nugatory in its impact.

And finally, let's examine the real "meatball" in this speech, which is the one news item:

I want to share with you one new development made possible by the clean energy incentives we have launched. This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It's going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it's complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes -- the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.

It is more than a little interesting to observe the tag-line that is used in the White House blog site to draw attention to the president's speech. It states: "The plant is possible because of the President's investment in the clean energy economy, which Congressional Republicans want to eliminate." (Emphasis added.)

So this is not your money or my money as taxpayers that will be going to some company that few people have ever heard of before; it is the president's money to spend as he sees fit in his capacity as the nation's self-appointed Chief Investment Officer -- making moves that no other CIO or CEO in the world would dare to contemplate in investing their own or shareholders' money.

Three months ago, Mr. Obama gave another weekly address crowing about his decision to commit up to $2 billion in federal money to support the creation of 1,585 "permanent" jobs in two little-known solar energy companies -- one U.S. and the other based in Spain. I wrote a story about that for the Weekly Standard ("One Job Forward, Two Jobs Back," July 19, 2010) pointing out that the potential cost to taxpayers came to $1.25 million per job, and stating that the Obama administration should be blamed for destroying at least two or three jobs for every one it claims to have created or saved -- through the diversion of scare resources to non-commercial and almost certainly non-economic enterprises.

In his latest weekly address, the president does not specify how much money BrightSource will receive. Through an Internet search, I found that as of last May, the federal government had agreed to provide unknown and untested BrightSource with $1.37 billion in loan guarantees to build its first U.S. project, a 400-megawatt projects consisting of three power plants in the Mojave Desert. That, too, might come to a rather embarrassing number in terms of taxpayer cost per job created (given the claim of just 1,000 jobs in building a facility that will, presumably, be a non-labor intensive operation).

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About the Author
Andrew B. Wilson, a frequent contributor to The American Spectator and a former foreign correspondent, writes from St. Louis.