August 6, 2008
Recycling Jimmy Carter
Barack Obama doesn't just talk about conservation, he practices it. In his thinking and proposals on energy, the Illinois senator has expertly recycled Jimmy Carter. Though there may be a difference here or there, the Obama policies are essentially Carter's.
You have doubts? Read through Carter's energy speech from April 1977. In a nationally televised addressed, Carter struck themes that are echoed by Obama today.
- Whereas Jimmy Carter accused the United States of being "the most wasteful nation on earth," Obama is fond of saying that Americans are energy hogs, consuming a quarter of the world's energy while being only three percent of the world's population.
- Carter urged "strict conservation and a transition to "permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power." He spoke about the need to protect the environment.
- Like Obama raising the specter of manmade global warming, Carter had his Chicken Little, too. He conjured up the image of a mini-apocalypse, should Americans not come to grips soon with the energy crisis. In his own words:
"We will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment. We will have a crash program to build more nuclear plants, strip-mine and burn more coal, and drill more offshore wells than we will need if we begin to conserve now. Inflation will soar, production will go down, people will lose their jobs. Intense competition will build up among nations and among the different regions within our own country.
If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions."
In a similar vein, Barack Obama said this last year, when he unveiled his global warming initiative:
"This is our generation's moment to save future generations from global catastrophe by creating a market for clean-burning fuels that can stop the dangerous transformation of our climate."
The irony is that a portion of Carter's prophecy came to pass during his administration, and led to his eventual defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan. Thanks to his tax and fiscal policies -- not conflicts over energy -- inflation soared, productivity took a hit and unemployment spiraled up. It was the stuff of the "Misery Index."
Carter's prediction that dwindling resources and rising consumption would lead to collapse never came to pass, as anyone living can testify. But here's what skeptical Americans heard from Carter on that long-ago April night:
"World consumption of oil is still going up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970s and 1980s by 5 percent a year as it has in the past, we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade."
Energy demand has, in fact, continued to climb since Carter's presidency, but so has energy production -- domestically and globally. Exploration, advances in technology, entrepreneurism and market forces have seen to that happy result. And, not incidentally, President Reagan's policies unleashed an economic revival that was as good for the nation's energy sector as it was for other sectors of the economy.
Lately, global demand for oil and gas has spiked, eating into supply and contributing to rising costs. But today, as we know, there is no foreseeable shortage of oil, gas or coal. There is some shortage in technological prowess in converting oil shale and coal to petrol, or, at least, to do so cost-effectively. The real shortages have been in foresight and political will. The lack of development of nuclear power is a prime example. Years of relatively cheap energy made voters complacent and made obstructionism by liberals and environmentalists easy.
Americans have been the victims of their own success; yet, within that success lie the keys to meeting the nation's current and future energy challenges. Those keys have nothing to do with treating oil and gas producers as predators; nor taxing consumption at confiscatory levels; nor relying on big government and centralized planning. All of that was tried in the last century, to one degree or another, and failed. Not surprisingly, it has to do with government clearing the way for the private sector. Taxes need to be low and fair; regulations, sensible, not onerous or obstructive. Laws should not serve as impediments to the smart development of energy resources on public lands. The general rule should be: "Where government meddles, it muddles."
The real curiosity is how Barack Obama and liberals generally have picked up on Jimmy Carter's woeful policies and failed predictions, as if the intervening twenty-seven years since Carter's term were but the slightest pause; or a blip to be overlooked. Nothing, apparently, transpired in those years to teach or dissuade liberals. They are purblind; true believers who will not be shaken from their course, no matter the hard facts or history's lessons.
In economics, Jimmy Carter was the Herbert Hoover of the latter part of the twentieth century -- though one has to give Hoover his due: he never suffered a foreign policy debacle as Carter did. The Iranian hostage crisis was that debacle, and, here again, it is instructive about Barack Obama. Carter's naivety and belief in negotiating with the mullahs for the release of the hostages proved futile. It was Reagan's election and the implied use of force that won the hostages' release. What has Barack Obama learned from that episode? Judging from his earlier and oft-stated desire to parlay with dictators, evidently nothing.
Obama and the Democrats may think that recycling is always a good thing. But some presidencies, like some waste, are too toxic for reuse by humans.
J.Robert Smith is the pseudonym of a businessman.