President Obama powered up today and turned Republican attacks about gas prices into a defense of the common man against Big Oil.
The president said,
Some of these folks want to dismiss the promise of solar power and wind power and fuel-efficient cars. In fact, they make jokes about it. One member of Congress who shall remain unnamed called these jobs “phony” — called them phony jobs. I mean, think about that mindset, that attitude that says because something is new, it must not be real. If these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the Flat Earth Society. (Laughter.) We were just talking about this — that a lack of imagination, a belief that you can’t do something in a new way — that’s not how we operate here in America. That’s not who we are. That’s not what we’re about.
These politicians need to come to Boulder City and see what I’m seeing. (Applause.) They should talk to the people who are involved in this industry, who have benefited from the jobs, who benefit from ancillary businesses that are related to what’s going on right here.
Now, all of you know that when it comes to new technologies, the payoffs aren’t always going to come right away. Sometimes, you need a jump start to make it happen. That’s been true of every innovation that we’ve ever had. And we know that some discoveries won’t pan out. There’s the VCR and the Beta and the — all that stuff. (Laughter.)
And each successive generation recognizes that some technologies are going to work, some won’t; some companies will fail, some companies will succeed. Not every auto company succeeded in the early days of the auto industry. Not every airplane manufacturer succeeded in the early days of the aviation. But we understood as Americans that if we keep on this track, and we’re at the cutting edge, then that ultimately will make our economy stronger and it will make the United States stronger. It will create jobs. It will create businesses. It will create opportunities for middle-class Americans and folks who want to get into the middle class. That’s who we are. That’s what we’re about. (Applause.)
So I want everybody here to know that as long as I’m President, we will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. (Applause.) We’re not going to walk away from places like Boulder City. I’m not going to give up on the new to cede our position to China or Germany or all the other competitors out there who are making massive investments in clean energy technology. I refuse to see us stand by and not make the same commitment. That’s not what we do in America. It’s not who we are as a country.
Later Obama returned to the Republicans Flat Earther theme, “So as long as I’m President, we’re going to develop every available source of energy. That is a promise that I’m making to you. And, yes, that means we make investments in stuff that is new, and we stop subsidizing stuff that’s old. The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress — (laughter) — they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion — $4 billion — in tax subsidies, tax giveaways, to the oil companies — $4 billion to an industry that is making record profits. Every time you fill up the pump, they’re making money. They are doing just fine. They’re not having any problems.”
President Obama also promised that America would continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace, but his speech contained an interesting bit of positioning. Traditionally in presidential campaign, it is the incumbent who is defending the status quo. The challenger is normally the one who offering up a forward thinking vision for the future, but the roles are reversed in 2012.
In the current campaign, it is the Republicans who are harkening back to the good old days of the always unmentioned by name George W. Bush. The congressional Republican obstruction of the Obama agenda has given the president a unique political opportunity. As an incumbent, Obama is getting the chance to campaign as the forward thinking visionary who holds an ambitious agenda for the nation.
President Obama didn’t call Republicans flat earthers just because of their position on energy. The president used the term because he is trying to evoke an image in the minds of voters of a candidate and a party who are stuck in the past and resistant to change. Obama will likely argue during the fall campaign that he has been trying to bring change, but the Republicans have obstructed him at every turn.
The truth is that American conservatism by nature and practice is resistant to change. People who are drawn to conservatism do so because it is the political equivalent of defensive posturing. In their eyes, conservatives are always trying to protect something (their money, their freedom, the fetus). Conservatism isn’t about blazing a path towards the future. Modern American conservatism has become the mantra of those who are desperately trying to cling to the past.
President Obama, like every president who has tried before him, faces a tough sell on alternative energy. His task is complicated even more by the Republican Party’s willingness to embrace falsehoods that appeal to the laziness in many Americans. Republicans call on the American people to do nothing. Their energy plan is to drill more. They never bother to tell the American people that drilling more only benefits the oil companies and doesn’t lower the price of gas. For Republicans the energy issue is all protecting their Big Oil donors and scoring political points.
This is why President Obama is doing something brilliant on the energy issue. He has elevated the issue to a question of morals and values. He is arguing on a deeper level that Big Oil subsidies are wrong. He is stressing the moral argument against giving taxpayer dollars to the same people who are causing you pain at the pump.
For President Obama, the energy debate isn’t about gas prices, but about policies like oil subsidies that are morally wrong. Obama has turned a debate about gas prices into a defense of the common man against Big Oil, and for an incumbent president, this is a remarkable strategy.