THE PITCH…. President Obama’s speech in Pittsburgh yesterday was ostensibly about the economy. Those who read the transcript will notice it was about a whole lot more.
As a practical matter, the speech will go unnoticed by most of the country, and the media seems to have largely deemed it unimportant. That’s a shame — the speech, among other things, offered a very strong hint about the campaign message we’ll likely hear the rest of the year, made one of the more pointed critiques of the Republican Party we’ve heard in a while, and included some strong policy language about pending legislation.
There was a lot to the speech, and it’s tough to excerpt, but I especially enjoyed the president explaining why the Republican vision — a “belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges” — is hopelessly wrong.
“The last administration called this recycled idea ‘the Ownership Society.’ But what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own. No matter how hard you work, if your paycheck isn’t enough to pay for college or health care or childcare, well, you’re on your own. If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you’re on your own. And if you’re a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else.
“Now, I’ve never believed that government has all the answers…. But I also understand that throughout our nation’s history, we have balanced the threat of overreaching government against the dangers of an unfettered market. We’ve provided a basic safety net, because any one of us might experience hardship at some time in our lives and may need some help getting back on our feet. And we’ve recognized that there have been times when only government has been able to do what individuals couldn’t do and corporations wouldn’t do.
“That’s how we have railroads and highways, public schools and police forces. That’s how we’ve made possible scientific research that has led to medical breakthroughs like the vaccine for Hepatitis B, and technological wonders like GPS. That’s how we have Social Security and a minimum wage, and laws to protect the food we eat and the water we drink and the air that we breathe. That’s how we have rules to ensure that mines are safe and, yes, that oil companies pay for the spills that they cause.”
The right has consistently applied their principles — against Social Security, against Medicare, against FDIC — and been proven wrong. We also just wrapped up a decade in which their modern approach to governing was attempted, and failed spectacularly.
“So we know where those ideas lead us. And now we have a choice as a nation. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward. And I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward. I think America wants to move forward.”
If that strikes you as a campaign theme, summarizing why Democrats deserve voters’ support, we’re on the same page.
What’s more, as lawmakers continue to ponder whether to pursue energy/climate legislation this year, Obama’s speech made a compelling case.
“[T]his brings me to an issue that’s on everybody’s minds right now — namely, what kind of energy future can ensure our long-term prosperity. The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error, or of corporations taking dangerous shortcuts to compromise safety, or a combination of both. And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened. But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks — (applause) — these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren. (Applause.)
“We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month — including countries in dangerous and unstable regions. In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet. And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.
“Now, I understand that we can’t end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight. That’s why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy. But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe, and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.
“And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future. (Applause.) Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient. It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants. It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.
“But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future — if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.
“The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate — a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans — that would achieve the same goal. And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months. (Applause.) I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can. (Applause.) I will work with anyone to get this done — and we will get it done.
“The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward.”
The American Power Act faces an uncertain future, but the more Obama offers strong public endorsements like this one, the better its odds.