Last week, the president was attacked for his speech on BP and energy reform. Commentators on the right called it playing politics with the BP spill. Those on the left said he was not doing enough. I never cease to be amazed at what revelations would occur if our news cycle were not instantaneous. This goes for all bloggers, yours truly included. Within 24 hours of giving the speech last Tuesday, President Obama, who was not doing enough, had squeezed $20 billion from BP for a relief fund to be headed by Ken Feinberg. Feinberg is the former administrator of the 9/11 Fund and the person who has been deciding on the income of bankers who received bailout (oops, TARP) money. By now, Ken Feinberg has reached Michael Jordan status for managing potatoes too hot to handle.
Within 48 hours, Texas Congressman Joe Barton, had helped (helped in the Casablanca sense: "I'm shocked to discover gambling in this establishment!") Republican colleagues by the following statement, which is too good not to print once again:
I'm not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives but myself, but I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown. In this case a $20 billion shakedown ... I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words -- amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize.
My problem is that I agree with the right and the left! He is playing politics with the BP spill and not doing enough.
On playing politics. I cite section 1.3.4 of the Congressional Rules Book:
"A Congressmen is allowed to do and say whatever he likes to get elected." This section has recently been updated to include one exception. Section 1.3.4(a) now states: "A Congressman is not allowed to be so damn stupid as to expose his party to ridicule (See, Joe Barton (R-TX))." In Article II, Section 5 of the Constitution it says: "The President can use whatever power available to protect the country from Congressional malfeasance." This is the particular language that former President Bush and Vice President Cheney relied upon to do whatever they liked. So within the rules of Congress, the Constitution, politics, and common sense, playing politics is exactly what the President should be doing. I can't remember the last syllable coming out of a Republican on the issue of the energy bill that wasn't political. You play the cards you're dealt. The President was dealt a cataclysmic energy event. George Bush played 9/11 when he had an off day playing golf.
The president is not doing enough. I say this because it is true (but also to placate my Republican friends (I have a few!) who are going to be very upset with me for the above paragraph.) When the president makes the clarion call that we need to stop our addiction to oil, it sounds great for about 30 minutes, maybe a week. Regardless of your personal politics, any living, breathing, thinking person needs to ask: How and when? Perhaps renewable energy sources will get us to where we want to be in even 20 years. But this begs the question: What are we going to do in the next 20 years?
We live in a country where the automobile is interwoven through our lives. Cars are part of our identity. Many of us spend more time awake in our cars than with our families. NASCAR is the number one spectator sport in the USA. Any forced increase in the price of gasoline or any fuel comes right back to consumers and the more politically forceful agriculture lobby. Reducing our dependence on oil is a BIG cultural, infrastructure and technology hurdle to overcome.
This gets me to the stepchild of fuels: natural gas. Natural gas doesn't fit into the utopia of renewable energy or clean nuclear. It does offer an achievable path today for alleviating our dependence on oil and coal. In the very near future, say 5 years, the US will be the number one exporter of gas in the world. We are the Saudi Arabia and Venezuela of natural gas. It is a mechanical process not a technological hurdle to switch trucks (e.g., postal, garbage, and short-haul), buses (e.g., commuter, tour, and school), and taxicabs to natural gas. Natural gas cars exist throughout the world even in California (e.g., Honda Civic). There are already numerous natural gas power plants in the US that are online, producing power today. Natural gas is not tomorrow: It is today!
So, yes I agree with the left and the right. The president needs to do more by giving us his vision of our energy future. Particularly, how and when we are going to reduce our addiction to oil. The president MUST play hardball politics with the spill. He needs to play the cards he was dealt.