President Barack Obama’s lackluster national address Tuesday provoked as many questions as it answered. Here’s mine:
Why the moon landing?
Why did our hippest president ever — the president who wields his own BlackBerry and who ran campaign ads against his 2008 opponent for not being tech-savvy — try to summon our national gumption for a “mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny” in energy by referring to something that happened four decades ago?
The past 40 years have given us the microprocessor, Google, cloned sheep, myriad lifesaving drugs, the iPod — wonders even to those who witnessed the moon landing.
But the generation Obama called upon isn’t old enough to have anticipated or watched Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind. We grew up in an era when our ability to pull off such a feat was already proven.
Obama may as well have evoked the Bell telephone. Except that, unlike moon landings, we still make phone calls (wirelessly now, natch). Except that modern marvels have built upon Bell’s feat, leaving more than a legacy program that’s spent billions while atrophying.
And except that the new technologies of the past 40 years flowed primarily from the decentralized decisions and creativity of private enterprise, not the government’s single-minded focus.
Obama’s model for innovation is stuck in the 1960s. He wants this mission and, unless his professed openness to other ideas is truer now than amid the health care debate, he wants government to lead it.
Never mind that the feds, with their experts and 30,000 personnel and other resources Obama mentioned, couldn’t beat the floating oil slick to the Gulf’s beaches with four weeks’ notice. Now it’s going to direct an efficient overhaul of energy that would touch nearly every segment of our economy?
Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank described the impulse last week, telling Young Democrats, “You can reach out to your fellow young people and make it clear … that when they may not be satisfied with everything we’ve done — we’re not satisfied with everything we’ve done. The way to cure that is to give us more authority and more ability.” (My italics.)
(As for the apparent irony of conservatives complaining about government inaction in the Gulf: It’s not that I and others on the right suddenly want big government when crises hit. It’s that the big government we already have has been impotent. We’re not asking for more government. We’re asking, Why the $*#& do we pay taxes if it’s not to act at times like this?)
More authority and more ability: That’s what Obama’s mission sounds like.
But unaccountable authority isn’t enough. What China also has is the cash to afford some mistakes while subsidizing new, unproven technologies. Even if everyone wanted the king-for-a-day Obama of liberal fantasies, we couldn’t afford his royal prerogatives because we already spent the money on other liberal fantasies.
The oil spill may well generate some public sentiment for new energy policy. But not for an economy-wrecking cap and trade plan, favored by the likes of BP, that was written and shelved long before the spill.
What we can afford is conservation — i.e., spending less money. But we can’t spend billions more tax dollars on cash for clunkers or caulkers. If Americans really want to reduce our energy use, we should be able to do it without taxpayer-funded programs. We should be able to do it without Obama’s moonshot.