Obama, Stuck in the 9/11 Era as Much as Mitt Is Stuck in the Cold War Era

Working on another post, I went back and read all three Obama DNC speeches. (200420082012) Aside from the biographical details, several things remained constant through all three: the Hope theme (though it has evolved in interesting ways, which is what I was looking at), the inclusion of some version of “We don’t think the government can solve all our problems,” and a call for energy independence.


In 2004, that call came in a list of things John Kerry planned to accomplish.

John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies or the sabotage of foreign oil fields.


In 2008, the call came with a specific goal: to end dependence on the Middle East by 2019.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. [my emphasis]

Obama embodied the refusal of DC to address energy independence in John McCain’s career, and in the “Drill Baby Drill” chant that was the rage in political circles in 2008.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

And he made several promises–several of which he has made progress on, several of which he has thankfully not achieved, one of which–nukes–he has at least rhetorically dropped from his convention speech.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.


And last week he, correctly, argued that Mitt would not continue this commitment to an energy independence that relies on a range of sources (Mitt would certainly keep drilling, would expand traditional coal mining, and would keep paying Iowa farmers to pour corn into cars, but would probably not continued subsidies for clean technologies).

OBAMA: You can choose the path where we control more of our own energy. After thirty years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas.


In this section, Obama quietly–too quietly–bragged about the jobs he created in battery and turbine plants.

We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines, and long-lasting batteries.

And he accurately claimed that these policies (plus the recession, plus a warm winter, though he doesn’t mention them) have made a difference.

In the last year alone, we cut oil imports by one million barrels a day, more than any administration in recent history. And today, the United States of America is less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in the last two decades.


So, now you have a choice – between a strategy that reverses this progress, or one that builds on it.

What I’m interested in, though, is the emphasis he places on the energy and the unconvincing nod he makes to climate change. In 2004, Obama had listed “the future of our planet” as the third of three reasons for his commitment to energy independence; the other two were “our economy” and “our security.” Here, an explicit admission that “climate change is not a hoax” comes among promises to “drill baby drill.”

We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more. But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers. We’re offering a better path. [my emphasis]

Even when I listened to this passage the other night, I was offended by his promise not to let oil companies endanger our coastlines. Oil from the BP spill came onshore with Hurricaine Isaac. Just a week before he delivered these lines, Obama approved Shell drilling in the Chukchi Sea which presents predictable dangers to coastlines and species, particularly given how Shell has already failed to take necessary precautions. And even the Saudis recognize that fracking presents a real threat to our groundwater. So not only is Obama not subordinating the sanctity of our coastlines to his commitment to drill, neither is he making adequate efforts to protect our drinking water.


We’re offering a better path, a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where — where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet.

If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.

(APPLAUSE) [my emphasis]

Then, after what, given the brevity of the speech, is a very long section on drilling, Obama immediately nods to climate change.

And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it. [my emphasis]

Now, the impact of shale oil on climate change is contentious issue. Because it currently replaces coal, it makes our total carbon release less damaging than it otherwise would be. But if you count up all the carbon in the shale gas that people plan to burn, planning to develop what is there it represents a huge threat to our climate. So while Obama’s claim that his plan–including the commitment to renewables–will reduce carbon pollution is not false, exactly, it’s not exactly preventing climate change.

Which is why I find Obama’s formulation on climate so interesting:

  • Climate change is not a hoax
  • More droughts and floods and wildfires are “a threat to our children’s future”

No! The droughts and floods and wildfires we already have are a threat to our present! They are a threat to our grand parents, parents, our own, and our children’s present, not some future time when most of us will be dead!

While this was one of the first and only mentions of climate change at the convention-easily one of the biggest threats facing our country, one which routinely kills more people than al Qaeda, which Obama claimed was our country’s greatest enemy–it spoke of climate change as a future threat, not an urgent present one, one which already blowing entire towns off the map.

This then, was not a promise to switch to fracking for the relatively lower carbon output it produces (particularly not with “clean” coal still in the speech). Rather, it was ancillary benefit of an energy independence pursued primarily for national and economic security reasons.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an area where Obama has substantially delivered on what he promised. As I’ve long said, the energy jobs Obama invested as part of the stimulus were incredibly important–certainly not as big a impact on jobs as the auto bailout, but more important to catching the US up on technologies we had grown dependent on other countries for (though between KORUS and China’s Wanxiang Group Corporation investment in A123, Obama’s not doing the things to sustain this effort). And they did create jobs Republicans around here have been claiming were due to raw entrepreneurship.

Further, as Michael Grunwald notes, Obama delivered $90 billion of the $150 billion promised back in 2008, with added private investment.

The energy stuff wasn’t just big, it was ginormous. It’s hard to get people twice as excited about $90 billion as they would be about $45 billion, or 10 times more than they would be about $9 billion, but even $9 billion would have been ginormous. Ten years earlier, [President] Clinton pushed a five-year, $6 billion clean energy bill that went nowhere; at the time it was seen as preposterous and unrealistic, and it was. And here, 10 years later, $90 billion in the guy’s first month in office. Plus it leveraged another $100 billion in private money.

Obama promised that he would double renewable power generation during his first term, and he did. In 2008, people had the sense that renewable energy was a tiny industry in the United States. What they forget is it was a tiny dead industry — because these wind and solar projects were essentially financed through tax credits, which required people with tax liability, and everybody had lost money, so nobody needed [the tax credits]. By changing those to a cash grant, it instantly unlocked this industry. Another thing that’s helped to create the wind and solar industry were advanced manufacturing tax credits, which were a gigantic deal. I think there were about 200 factories that got these credits.

Grunwald’s right that Obama should be boasting more about this.

I’d argue Obama should be likening them to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s security deal with the Saudis in 1945, which gave us the preferential access to oil that fueled our hegemonic growth since; Republican efforts to demonize these investments with the Solyndra scandal-mongering are effectively an effort to prevent Obama from making a similar kind of historical move on energy security that served as the foundation of American’s success for two generations.

All that said, in the 8 years since Obama’s been making these speeches, it has become increasingly clear that Obama’s understanding of energy’s relationship to security is badly outdated. To boast of more drilling while referring to climate change as a future problem is to misplace where the greatest security threats lie.

Obama (and before him and in even more mocking terms, Biden) made fun of Mitt for calling the Russians our biggest enemy.

My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.


After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy, not Al Qaeda, Russia, unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.

But he’s just as badly wrong as Mitt is when he says a handful of terrorists are a bigger threat than the climate-change related drought that shut down the Mississippi this summer.  Even if this is all about security and economy–and not primarily climate change itself–when climate change ends up doing things al Qaeda never succeeded in doing (and certainly can’t do now), then Obama needs to rearrange his understanding of the priorities.

13 replies
  1. FFein says:

    We took a train from Ann Arbor to Chicago to Arizona in April and were amazed at the number of wind farms that have popped up since our last trip a couple of years ago. Also driving north in Michigan we also saw some wind farms that weren’t there even a year ago. So….maybe that’s a sign of progress. I haven’t read much about them, but it sure was a pretty sight.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @FFein: Yup, lots of that coming along. I’ve been seeing occasional traffic jams going north on 131 as trucks carrying turbines hold up traffic. And now we’re MAKING turbines in MI. And a lot of that DID come from stimulus dollars.

    Plus now we’ve the 25/25 on the ballot which, if it passes, will be another stimulus to that kind of thing. If MI turns around bc it’s a cheap place to get energy it’ll raise some eyebrows.

  3. P J Evans says:

    Those turbines are really impressive up close. The train I was on passed one (several times) that was parked on a siding. I think the hubs for the turbines were about ten feet in diameter. Also, there’s a place in Fontana that is or was building the towers for them.

  4. P J Evans says:

    I could have done without the ‘clean coal’ line, which is pure industry BS. (The natural gas bit doesn’t thrill me, either, because I do know how and where they’re going to be getting it, and fracking is under-regulated already.)

  5. jerryy says:

    @emptywheel: Even more evidence his energy policy is not about climate change is his giving Shell (that foreign owned Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company) a waiver from having to use boats that pass emission standards while they go a-drillin’ in the Artic as well as waivers on having to have in place plans to deal with crises like what happened to BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

    ps If you see that bmaz guy hanging around, tell him Nuance apparently heard his complaint he posted here a shiort while back, they released an update that is of course better than sliced bread.

  6. joanneleon says:

    The schtick about the coastlines was really offensive, I agree. In addition to the things that you mentioned, has he forgotten his pre-BP disaster talk about opening up the East coast? Those projects have not been abandoned, just put on hold. And what? Alaska isn’t a coastline? The Gulf isn’t a coastline? So many lies in those speeches or cleverly worded sentences meant to give the impression of one thing but leave wiggle room for the Orwellian opposite (e.g. Social Security).

  7. OrionATL says:

    ew –

    nice parallelism, but obama is no prisoner of september 11, 2001.

    the obama presidency/campaign is using the nyc airplane bombing and its subsequent martial progeny as cover for his deficient, indifferent, whatever-could-i-have done leadership regarding the bank-generated economic disaster of 2007.

    put differently, the campaign’s martial theme is cover for a substantially incompetent presidency whose incumbent principal wants a second term to try to improve his batting average.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @OrionATL: Sure. My point was just that he says AQ is our biggest enemy. I’d agree that banksters are a bigger enemy, too. But at this point I think climate change is the most relevant existential threat.

  9. Garrett says:

    This is an important Afghanistan news article, I think.

    Today is the Massoud assassination anniversary date.

    In paragraph 14 of the article, amidst all the violence, we get

    At a time when the American-led coalition is trying to oversee a peaceful transition to full Afghan control, the warlords, including some in the government, joined a meeting of about 1,000 officials in Kabul to urge former mujahedeen fighters to take up arms against the Taliban.

    NYT (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    On Massoud assassination day, a gathering of the warlords and the power brokers, the meeting 1000 strong, and with Sayyef in there, advocating a hard line.

    Talk about burying a lead.

    It looks like, as a guess, a major day in the war.

  10. Long Walk Home says:

    2012 so far is hottest year on record for usa

    The first eight months of 2012 have been the warmest of any year on record in the contiguous USA, and this has been the third-hottest summer since record-keeping began in 1895, the US National Climate Data Center (NCDC) said on Monday.

    Each of the last 15 months has seen above-average temperatures, something that has never happened before in the 117 years of the US record.

    Winter, spring and summer 2012 have all been among the top-five hottest for their respective seasons and that too is unique in the US record. There has never been a warmer September-through-August period than in 2011-2012.

    The NCDC did not specify that human-spurred climate change was the cause of the record heat. However, this kind of warmth is typical of what other climate scientists, including those at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have suggested would be more likely in a world that is heating up due in part to human activities.


  11. thatvisionthing says:


    Further, as Michael Grunwald notes, Obama delivered $90 billion of the $150 billion promised back in 2008, with added private investment…Grunwald’s right that Obama should be boasting more about this.

    Grunwald’s thesis is that Obama’s not getting the “ginormous” cred he deserves for the green energy gains from the stimulus bill — his New New Deal. The article you linked to prefaces Grunwald’s interview like this:

    The Obama Era has been a disorienting experience for those of us attached to empirical reality. Press and popular narratives that have grown up around Obama and the legislation he’s signed bear only a tenuous relationship to facts.

    Reality check fail? Hey, here’s how that goes. Grunwald’s book was recently the subject of a Book Salon on FDL, and [some of our/ all of my] attempts there to get him to address reality concerns behind the hype went nowhere. Glass ears. I guess the closest we got to a response to all our unanswered questions was his farewell “I really enjoyed the questions, hostile and non.” I’m sure that addresses all of us somehow.

    Some high spots:


    – d12345 @95: “[Obama] gave no clear philosophical platform. In fact the wage freeze, the American family thing and other comments confused matters profoundly.”

    – me @97: “To the point of your book, you may be giving Obama huge credit for spending money with an environmental tag, but is anyone checking the environmental wisdom of what he’s funding?”

    – Ready @100 in response to MG @99: “From what I read over 80% of the stimulus money that went to wind energy went to foreign companies.”

    – MG @104 in response to d12345 @95: “As an environmental writer I hear a lot about a similar issue, his refusal to talk about global warming. What I always point out is that Obama has done far more than any president to address global warming; Clinton proposed a five-year $6 billion clean energy plan that went nowhere, and 10 years later Obama got $90 billion before most of his staff knew where the bathrooms were in the West Wing. Solar has increased 6X on his watch. The smart grid is happening. He’s financed 30 battery factories for electric vehicles, when before we had none. And so on. All of that is helping to break our dependence on fossil fuels and our carbon emissions, which are shrinking even though the economy is growing. But he doesn’t think it makes political sense to talk about global warming. This is one of the ironies of Obama: during the 2008 campaign, the rap on him was that he was a words guy, but he turned out to be more of a deeds guy. He campaigned as a change-the-system outsider, but governed as a work-the-system insider. And he’s gotten a lot done.”

    – MG @108 In response to Ready @100: “Oh, that makes me crazy. Yes, a lot of the wind money went to foreign companies. But who cares whose corporate name is on the polo shirts? The factories were built in the US. In 2008, Abengoa (a Spanish company) was shutting down its US projects, because after the financial meltdown, there was no investor appetite for the tax credits that help finance wind farms. (Yes, those are the tax credits that Mitt Romney wants to end.) But the stimulus transformed the credits into tax grants, and the day after it passed the CEO of Abengoa announced that he was investing $6 billion in US projects. That’s a good thing!”

    – Ready @114 in response to Michael Grunwald @108: “Really? That drives you nuts? Well, what drives me nuts is that these multinationals have no loyalty to this coutnry at all. And Obama’s little secretly negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership Trade agreement is going to bring corporate colonization right home to our shores.”

    nycterrierist @115: “Michael Grunwald, what are your thoughts on the Trans Pacific Partnership?”

    [no reply from MG about Trans Pacific Partnership]

    – me @124 in response to Michael Grunwald @104:

    All of that is helping to break our dependence on fossil fuels and our carbon emissions,

    Look, that’s the thing, I thing he’s ensuring our dependence on megacompanies for energy and whatever their choice of dirty fuel is. I’m in Southern California and here we got the greenwashed Sunrise Power Link and the Ocotillo Wind Express (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9732). The upshot of both of these environmentally miserable projects is that Sempra Energy gets greenwashing and taxpayer support while locking us into a dirty energy future with imported LNG burned in Mexico for power carried over Sempra powerlines through the most flammable part of California’s backcountry, INSTEAD of going to the smarter idea of decentralized local rooftop energy, which is like a no brainer for San Diego, why import “solar” energy here? Or wind energy from the desert where it fails to meet the minimum wind strength requirement?

    If the project is going to generate only a fifth of the power promised by proponents, and the hidden costs are staggering and irreversible, why hasn’t the federal government halted the project and weighed whether federal subsidies should be withdrawn?

    – me @129 in response to Ready @114: “What drives me nuts is that we are touting Obama’s environmental cred here without mentioning his prosecution of Tim De Christopher. Michael?”

    [no reply from MG about Tim De Christopher]

    – DWBartoo @134 in response to me @129: “Or his likely embrace of the pipeline…”

    – nycterrierist @135 in response to me @129: “I would also add, what about the Keystone Pipeline? Environmentalists agree it will be a disaster – a global warming tipping point – but it seems the President is not able to take a firm stand against it. Meanwhile construction has already started.”

    [no reply from MG about the Keystone Pipeline]

    – perris @154, echoing my first concern: “were these ‘stimulus’ dollars given to corporations for ‘private sector’ low wage jobs with tons of money going to the ceo or were they public sector high paying good retirement good health care jobs? which one? I am guessing ‘private sector’ top down ‘stimulus’ not bottom up investment”


    And so it went. @124 is where it’s at for me.

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