Obama Moralizing More on Green Energy
“One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one’ That's why he's not on Mt. Rushmore -- because he’s looking backwards. He’s not looking forwards. He’s explaining why we can't do something, instead of why we can do something.”
-- President Obama speaking at a green-energy rally at Prince George’s County (Md.) Community College.
Global warming and green energy have been a big part of President Obama’s political pitch since he stepped onto the national stage eight years ago.
While Republicans love to mock his line about his nomination for the presidency being the moment when “the oceans stopped their rise,” environmental issues are a huge deal for Democrats.
Remember, Pew studies consistently find that liberals have the lowest levels of religious participation and belief and atheists and agnostics are much more influential in Democratic politics than they are in Republican circles. Non-believers are inclined to feel more responsible for the condition of the planet than those who believe that our existence is not an accident of biochemistry.
Plus, environmentalism provides a way for liberals to be moralizers and to demonize their foes.
Republicans, who are overwhelmingly Christian, are much more comfortable with the language of good and evil and rendering judgment on moral issues like gayness. But environmentalism gives Democrats, including their many non-believing members, the chance to be scolds. The unifying theory of global warming also lends Democrats the chance to denounce their enemies and satisfies their inner Cotton Mathers. After all, can one be blamed for hating a person who is actively endangering all life on earth?
Oil companies are to the left what Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, is to the right.
It is through this political prism that much of Obama’s policy passes.
His restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler has been largely aimed at producing smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. His stimulus program was heavily weighted toward subsidies for firms that produce environmentally friendly energy sources, like the now-infamous Solyndra.
Even on Obama’s central effort of his first term, his national health law, environmentalism played a part. Recall that while the Democratically dominated Congress was trying to cough up a bill that met Obama’s demands, the president was simultaneously pushing for legislation imposing new federal fees on emissions his administration says are causing the earth to become dangerously warm.
Had Obama not been pushing an unpopular cap-and-trade law at the same time, the health law might have passed more smoothly and debuted with less of an odor attached. Certainly the Democratic shellacking of 2010 would have been less enormous had Obama and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not forced so many Rust Belt and Border State Democrats to vote for the global warming fees.
The problem with environmental moralizing is that it goes over about as well in the political center as old-fashioned moralizing. Whether you’re running against hotel-room porn or cheap electricity, you’re running against things that have considerable constituencies among persuadable American voters.
As oil prices soar, Obama is keen to avoid a repeat of 2010 and the cap-and-trade fiasco. So he is trying a two-fold effort in which he and his administration relentlessly talk up their acceptance of cheap energy sources under the new restrictions now placed upon them, but he is also ramping up his rhetoric as a preacher of environmental morality.
Obama’s argument is that he will continue to allow the use of fossil fuels but wants to more heavily tax the profits of those who produce them in order to finance government subsidies for environmentally friendly sources of energy.
But that’s a long road to travel. About 9 percent of the energy used by Americans comes from “renewables.” The rest comes from burning stuff or splitting atoms. But of that 9 percent, the vast majority comes from hydroelectric power and ethanol. Hydroelectric power has little room for growth since there aren’t any new dams going in, and ethanol doesn’t qualify as a green energy source since it requires so much energy to make itself.
Of the currently viable sources acceptable to environmentalists, many billions of dollars of subsidies have produced very little yield. Solar power provides one tenth of one percent of our energy. Wind delivers 1 percent.
When Obama takes credit for having “doubled the use of clean energy,” he has the advantage of working in a very narrow mathematical space. Solar produces 184 times less energy than coal does today.
The president suggests taking an additional $4 billion a year from the producers of cheap fossil fuels in order to subsidize existing “clean” sources and to look for breakthroughs that he believes the government can find in the field of energy.
This plays very well with Democrats, for many of whom it is a moral imperative to end the burning of things to make energy. Taking the profits from those who they believe are destroying the earth doesn’t just satisfy the desire to punish the wicked, it actually helps heal the planet.
When the president trashes Republicans (reaching back to inaccurately insult President Rutherford Hayes, who had the first telephone in Washington, D.C.) for being anti-science and opposed to progress because they are corruptly beholden to the oil industry, he is giving a liberal version of a morality play.
This is good for firing up the Democratic base and, by daily elevation of Newt Gingrich, may help keep the Republican nominating process going longer. But it remains highly dubious as a general-election strategy.
Global warming has lost a lot of its currency in the center since 2008 from both the debunking of some of environmentalists’ most terrifying claims and the perpetually puny economy. It is hard to get people worried about their own jobs to support paying more for energy in the name of an intangible future menace.
The rigidity of the Democratic base on environmentalism, though, offers Obama very little room for Obama to maneuver.
And Now, A Word From Charles
KRAUTHAMMER: He's been giving speech after speech. This speech he gave was identical to the speech he gave on the 7th of March in North Carolina and the one he gave a month ago in Miami, with one difference. Today he left out algae, which is a pity, because Jonah and I have done all that research on algae on how it grows on turtles and sloths and other stuff. I'll spare you the details.
BAIER: It's on YouTube.
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. He knows it's a funny word. It's inherently a funny word. Like booger.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.