Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Follow The Money, Tom

Thomas Friedman is disappointed in Obama’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sure the fear in the White House is palpable, what with Rahm Emanuel crumpled on the floor in the Oval Office in a cold sweat muttering to himself, “We’ve lost Friedman, we’ve lost America!”

It’s not that the Obama administration botched its handling of the disaster in the same way Bush botched Hurricane Katrina. On the contrary, Team Obama has been on top of it from the start. It’s just that Friedman sees Obama as missing an important opportunity. This epic disaster, this 9/11-like, super-duper historical fantastic Pearl Harbor type event could be used to implement fundamental changes in our energy policy and help cure us of our dangerous addiction to foreign oil. But Obama just isn’t doing it. He’s missing his Big Chance to bring about this important sea change. Friedman just can’t figure it out.

… In the wake of this historic oil spill, the right policy — a bill to help end our addiction to oil — is also the right politics. The people are ahead of their politicians. So is the U.S. military. There are many conservatives who would embrace a carbon tax or gasoline tax if it was offset by a cut in payroll taxes or corporate taxes, so we could foster new jobs and clean air at the same time. If Republicans label Democrats “gas taxers” then Democrats should label them “Conservatives for OPEC” or “Friends of BP.” Shill, baby, shill.

Why is Obama playing defense? Just how much oil has to spill into the gulf, how much wildlife has to die, how many radical mosques need to be built with our gasoline purchases to produce more Times Square bombers, before it becomes politically “safe” for the president to say he is going to end our oil addiction? Indeed, where is “The Obama End to Oil Addiction Act”? Why does everything have to emerge from the House and Senate? What does he want? What is his vision? What are his redlines? I don’t know. But I do know that without a fixed, long-term price on carbon, none of the president’s important investments in clean power research and development will ever scale.

Great questions, Tom. What, indeed, are Obama’s redlines? Why is he being so defensive? Why is such a canny politician failing to seize on this propitious moment in history to steer us down the path of energy independence? It’s difficult to say, but I suspect that this might have a teensy-weensy little something to do with it:

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company’s political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.

On top of that, the oil giant has spent millions each year on lobbying — including $15.9 million last year alone — as it has tried to influence energy policy. During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.

You don’t suppose that money obscured Obama’s “redlines” a tad bit, do you?

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