Archive for April, 2008

Praying and Preying

April 30, 2008
April 30, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Praying and Preying

WASHINGTON

Barack Obama has spent his life, and campaign, trying not to be the Angry Black Man.

Early on, he wrote in “Dreams From My Father,” he discerned the benefits of playing against the ’60s stereotype of black militancy.

“I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds,” he said. “One of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”

Obama and his aides often brag about his Zenlike serenity. “I’ve learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency, which is I don’t get too high when I’m high and I don’t get too low when I’m low,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

The next morning, he was hurtled into the worst political crisis of his life. On Tuesday, the Sort Of Angry Black Man appeared, reluctantly spurred into action by The Really Angry Black Man.

Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke. “When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it,” Obama said. “It contradicts everything I am about and who I am.” He said that the riffs of the man he prayed with before his announcement speech give “comfort to those who prey on hate.”

Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.

He’s back on the tricky path he faced as a child, navigating between two racial cultures. At Trinity, he may have ignored what he should have heard because he was trying to assimilate to black culture. Now, he may be outraged by what he belatedly heard because he’s trying to relate to the white lunch-pail set.

Having been deserted at age 2 by his father, Obama has now been deserted by the father-figure in his church, the man who inspired him to become a Christian, married him, dedicated his house, baptized his children, gave him the title of his second book and theme for his presidential run and worked on his campaign.

At the very moment when his fate hangs in the balance, when he is trying to persuade white working-class voters that he is not an exotic stranger with radical ties, the vainglorious Rev. Wright kicks him in the stomach. In a narcissistic explosion that would impress Bill Clinton, the preacher dragged Obama into the ’60s maelstrom that he had pledged to be an antidote to. In two days worth of solipsistic rants, the man of faith committed at least four of the seven deadly sins — wrath, envy, pride and greed (book and lecture fees?) — while grandiosely claiming he was defending the black church.

He was certainly sore at Obama, after helping him get connected in Chicago politics, for distancing himself. But he was also clearly envious that Obama has been hailed by his flock as the halo-wearing Redeemer of America’s hope.

If Obama was going to co-opt his role as charismatic evangelist, why couldn’t he morph into a spinning politician? Obama’s anger, an unused muscle, had to be stoked by his advisers, who pressed him with drooping poll numbers and the video of Wright at the National Press Club. He again heard the preacher turning Farrakhan into an American idol, and his flame-throwing assertions that the U.S. government had infected blacks with the AIDS virus and had brought terrorist attacks on itself by practicing terrorism abroad.

But in the end, it was Wright showing “disrespect” by implying that Obama was a phony that sparked the candidate’s slow-burning temper. “What I think particularly angered me,” he said, “was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing.”

For some, Obama didn’t offer enough outrage. “He talks about Reverend Wright violating his core beliefs as if he is detailing why he doesn’t like cheesecake or cream cheese,” said one Hillary Democrat. “He’s more passionate about basketball.”

The Illinois senator doesn’t pay attention to the mythic nature of campaigns, but if he did, he would recognize the narrative of the classic hero myth: The young hero ventures out on an adventure to seek a golden fleece or an Oval Office; he has to kill monsters and face hurdles before he returns home, knocks off his father and assumes the throne.

Tuesday was more than a Sister Souljah moment; it was a painful form of political patricide. “I did not vet my pastor before I decided to run for the presidency,” Obama said.

In a campaign that’s all about who’s vetted, maybe he should have.

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Dumb as We Wanna Be

April 30, 2008

Dumb as We Wanna Be

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

No, no, no, we’ll just get the money by taxing Big Oil, says Mrs. Clinton. Even if you could do that, what a terrible way to spend precious tax dollars — burning it up on the way to the beach rather than on innovation?

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”

Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

Are you sitting down?

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.

These credits are critical because they ensure that if oil prices slip back down again — which often happens — investments in wind and solar would still be profitable. That’s how you launch a new energy technology and help it achieve scale, so it can compete without subsidies.

The Democrats wanted the wind and solar credits to be paid for by taking away tax credits from the oil industry. President Bush said he would veto that. Neither side would back down, and Mr. Bush — showing not one iota of leadership — refused to get all the adults together in a room and work out a compromise. Stalemate. Meanwhile, Germany has a 20-year solar incentive program; Japan 12 years. Ours, at best, run two years.

“It’s a disaster,” says Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy, one of the biggest wind-power developers in America. “Wind is a very capital-intensive industry, and financial institutions are not ready to take ‘Congressional risk.’ They say if you don’t get the [production tax credit] we will not lend you the money to buy more turbines and build projects.”

It is also alarming, says Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that the U.S. has reached a point “where the priorities of Congress could become so distorted by politics” that it would turn its back on the next great global industry — clean power — “but that’s exactly what is happening.” If the wind and solar credits expire, said Resch, the impact in just 2009 would be more than 100,000 jobs either lost or not created in these industries, and $20 billion worth of investments that won’t be made.

While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America’s premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany — 540 high-paying engineering jobs — because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

In 1997, said Resch, America was the leader in solar energy technology, with 40 percent of global solar production. “Last year, we were less than 8 percent, and even most of that was manufacturing for overseas markets.”

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout.