President Obama may be a fine orator, but his speech was chock full of wishful thinking and spin. Some of his wishes might come true, though they will not have the results he is portraying, while some of his pipedreams are just whistling in the dark.
It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.
Contentious, yes. Comprehensive, hardly. Those debates have been most remarkable for the deeper perspectives kept off the table, hallmark of a carefully managed sham of a democracy. If that is what sets USA apart, it is nothing to crow about. Most genuine democracies have debates between more than two sides of the same coin. Considering how often and willingly Obama has caved in the face of opposition from the right, I wonder what it would sound like if he really did fight fiercely for his beliefs. One must expect a President to have reasons for actions that cannot be divulged, but I wonder, what does he really believe?
But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.
That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.
A common creed? The President ought to speak for himself. There is a creed Democrats and Republicans share, which allows both to justify the war on terror specifically, and the aspirations of empire in general. This creed is based on a value system that prizes dominance, power over, US exceptionalism, military supremacy. Jared Loughner did not believe women ought to be in positions of authority. He represents the logical extreme of that value system, but his crime was in principle little different from the war crimes committed in the name of protecting US interests. Violence is glorified and justified by the principle that might makes right.
Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.
I believe we can. I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
Yes, Democrats and Republicans will move backwards together, or not at all. Obama is right about the challenges being bigger than party politics, but neither his approach nor those of his mainstream opponents will meet those challenges.
At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.
What leadership is he calling a light to the world? Until recently, this nation was the biggest polluter on the planet, though China may have overtaken that dubious distinction by now, or will soon. This nation is also one of the worst international scofflaws, waging illegal wars of aggression against governments that did not threaten this nation in any way, except that they dared to resist the attempts of this nation to dominate the world, and in the case of Afghanistan, provided shelter to those willing to kill civilians to that end. I cannot condone such tactics, but when legitimate grievances with an aggressive superpower are ignored and compounded, blowback is bound to be horrific. Besides, USA has no problem with dictators killing innocent people to maintain their power if those tyrants are considered allies, unless there is enough of a spotlight to create embarrassing publicity, as in Egypt at the moment.
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.
Yes, the economy has been flooded with enough cheap money to create another bubble, creating some jobs but not enough to make a dent in unemployment. When that bubble pops, the crisis Obama inherited will look like a picnic. There has been no progress toward resolving the issues that caused that crisis. The financial reform bill was too heavily watered down, saturated with loopholes, and none of the too-big-to-fail culprits were broken up. On the contrary, they have gotten bigger.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.
That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments they make this year. These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.
But we have more work to do. The steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession – but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.
This is one example of wishful thinking. The recession is still alive and kicking, and about to get much worse. The steps taken to this point only papered over the problems, which have been centuries, if not millennia, in the making. The economic system is hopelessly corrupted, since it is based on a fundamentally corrupt value system. The quality of life is going in the wrong direction, and the tepid proposals of our politicians will do nothing to right the sinking ship. Those tax cuts may have reduced withholding from paychecks a bit, but at what price? Republicans got what they wanted, an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That two percent not withheld from paychecks will not help average people if their cost of living is inflated as a result of the deficit ballooning, or their retirement benefits have to be cut because less money goes to the Social Security trust fund.
In these times, winning the future is a strangely inappropriate metaphor, though it fits the aspiration of maintaining US supremacy. The future holds many perils. If people do not get their act together fast, the species will be history. The challenge of the future will be to survive without a horrendous decline in the quality of life. But Obama seems oblivious to that; he goes on to lay out his vision of how to “win the future,” as if what the country needs is to beat the competition of other nations. All nations need to take stock of the havoc conventional wisdom has wrought and cooperate to change course.
What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
Now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.
How many students answer questions about what they would change in the world? Is he honestly saying this is a nation of critical thinkers? Wishful thinking, and from what I understand, the educational reforms he has pushed are moving in the opposite direction, teaching the vast majority of children to pass standardized tests in preparation for a life as an unquestioning cog in the corporate world. Politicians need to take responsibility for the deficit, true, but there are more significant deficits in imagination, honesty, respect for diversity of opinion and life.
This tale of immigrants coming here to pursue their own destiny may have been true long ago, but nowadays many immigrants risk a great deal to come here because USA has wrecked their local economies, so the displaced face a life of abject misery, if they can survive at all.
Usually when a politician speaks of creating the best place to do business, that is code for giving businesses a break on taxes and regulations. Regulations are already porous enough to allow businesses to endanger their workers and foul the environment. Obama gave as an example of a silly regulation the EPA requirement to treat saccharin as a toxic waste. Since FDA approved it as a safe sweetener, Obama says the EPA regulation is just plain dumb. Wrong, FDA was just plain dumb, corrupt, or both to approve it in the first place.
The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.
None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.
Innovation is a good thing, when its purpose is good. Some innovations serve no good purpose, such as the financial innovations that contributed heavily to the financial crisis Obama inherited. Liar loans? Yes, some did make a pile of money with such innovations, and other innovations have also been hugely profitable, but should never have been developed at all. I speak of nuclear power, genetic engineering, the innovations of more efficient ways to kill. Obama has no problem with any of those. He may have a problem with liar loans, but not with bailing out the institutions that made a killing on those loans before the game inevitably backfired.
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
Already, we are seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.
Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”
That’s what Americans have done for over two hundred years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money. We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.
At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.
Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Same old Obama, calling nuclear power, clean coal, biofuels, and natural gas clean sources of energy. This goes beyond wishful thinking; it is just plain dumb. This planet cannot afford to burn carbon much longer, period, end of story. Nuclear power is just as dangerous, in different ways, even discounting the risk of another catastrophic “accident.” Obama showed how interested he was in protecting the planet during the summits on climate change. There is no political will to do what it would take to prevent catastrophic climate change among Democrats or Republicans. They want to promote business as usual, pretending high technology will save the day. Most scientists agree that in order to make biofuels cost efficient, plants will have to be engineered for that purpose. This is a direct threat to biodiversity, and will only slightly decrease the production of carbon dioxide at best. When compared to burning gasoline or diesel fuel, biofuels could decrease carbon dioxide substantially, but not compared to powering fuel cells with cleanly produced hydrogen. Meanwhile the subsidies and mandates for corn ethanol are still in place, and that technology is hardly better than burning gasoline, if at all.
The technology to use sunlight and water to produce hydrogen is hardly a new idea, though the efficiency of the process is improving. That is a genuine part of the answer. Once fuel cell vehicles become affordable, there will be no need for any other fuel for transportation. Battery powered electric cars are also part of the answer, but until there is surplus truly clean electricity to charge the batteries, they will not do much to slow down the generation of greenhouse gases.
The hardest problems in what Obama is calling clean energy would be to make nuclear power safe, coal clean, and biofuels a means of significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Trying to solve these problems would waste an inordinate amount of money and time, because they are impossible. However, it seems likely that is where most of the money and effort will go. That way, politicians can claim they are valiantly trying to stave off climate change, without doing anything constructive at all. The technology to actually prevent catastrophic climate change is already available, though its efficiency is improving and could be further improved, but without the political will to deploy that technology on the necessary scale, Obama and his crew of scientific hacks are leading humanity like lemmings straight off a cliff.