Tag Archives: Jimmy Carter

After BP’s Disaster and Obama’s “Malaise,” Coal Is the Big Winner

No sooner had Obama made his Oval Office energy speech last week  than the pundits were comparing him to Jimmy Carter, saying his Debby Downer message was just like the so-called “malaise speech” in which Carter tried to wise up the populace to the energy mess. The Sunday morning pontificators were falling over each other to make the comparison yesterday, and even Der Spiegel ran an article asking “Will Obama Be the ‘Jimmy Carter of the 21st Century’?”

I’m not even going to try to weigh in on that question. But I am old enough to remember the “malaise speech,” which was not quite the speech that’s now being depicted by the pundits. Carter’s speech in July 1979 decried American reliance on foreign oil and proposed fresh departures into alternative energy. One of its main points was to seek creation of a new energy corporation to back alternatives fuels. There were some nods to solar energy and other renewable sources, but the real push was toward the oxymoronic “clean coal” in the form of coal gasification and liquefaction, along with the mining of oil shale, which is one of the most environmentally destructive energy extraction methods ever invented.

Carter’s speech followed the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and as much as anything else was occasioned by the pressure he was under from the public outcry which followed that near-catastrophe. In addition, the OPEC oil embargo of the early 1970s was still a not-too-distant memory. So nuclear energy was effectively shelved, oil held more or less steady, and the biggest winner was the cheap and plentiful homegrown energy source: coal. Once scorned for its destructive strip-mining and filthy emissions, coal suddenly didn’t look so bad when compared with the risk of radiation poisoning–especially if it could be greenwashed and rebranded as a “clean” energy source.

The upshot of it all was hardly an energy “malaise’,” nor did it result in a major change in energy policy. Instead, it was a slight shift in strategy–a reshuffling of the cards. And in the end, it was the same old same old: The fossil fuel solution in a slightly different package. 

There, most likely, is where we’ll see a real parallel between Carter and Obama: If the BP spill is Obama’s Three Mile Island and the Iraq War his OPEC embargo, his reaction to these crises will probably echo Carter’s: coal, coal, and more coal. The president has long declared himself a fan of  coal, and back in February–before BP’s well exploded–he issued a presidential memorandum ordering a special task force to move forward with the questionable technologies that are supposed to render coal “clean.” As David Sassoon wrote at the time on SolveClimate:

Obama’s executive office memorandum looks like a big victory for the coal industry, which was already handed $3.8 billion in last year’s stimulus act for carbon capture and storage (CCS) research and development and deployment. He did not simultaneously order a similar plan for a big roll-out of solar or wind energy to level the playing field.

Making good on campaign promises, the president is throwing the full weight of his administration behind a moonshot effort to make coal the “clean” energy technology of choice and open a federal pathway to a profitable future for one of the nation’s most polluting industries.

Three factors have cemented Obama’s support for carbon capture and sequestration technology: political necessity, economic opportunity and the backing of some of the most powerful mainstream environmental organizations operating inside the Beltway.

If Obama’s support for coal was “cemented” before the BP disaster, I’d be willing to bet he loves it even more after spending some time with the dead birds and tar balls on the Gulf Coast.

The Republican Right: Bring That “Boy” Down

Jimmy Carter yesterday plainly said what everyone ought to know already. As the BBC reported it:

Former US President Jimmy Carter says much of the vitriol against President Barack Obama’s health reforms and spending plans is “based on racism”.

Mr Carter told a public meeting there was “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president”.

Any journalist who covered the Democratic presidential primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania could not possibly have missed the naked hatred of the man based on the fact he is black. Comments such as “Oh I’ll vote for the nigger” were actually emanating from Obama supporters, so you can imagine what his opponents were saying. These same kind of comments were in the air in western Maryland during a recent town meeting on health care. The area has a history of being not just right wing territory, but Klan territory.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Younger people might have illusions of a “post-racial” society, but the unsilent generation knows racism when it sees it. America has not crossed any divide on this subject. The Republicans, especially the Republican South, reborn under Nixon, now based on young white men, can be easily ignited on this subject. This is a region of the nation where black men were not so long ago addressed as “boy”–and are still sometimes referred to that way when no one who would object is listening.

You can bet this is the kind of atmosphere Joe Wilson is familiar enough, and you can bet that’s part of what emboldened him to call the President of the United States a liar from the floor of the U.S. Congress. As I wrote on Mother Jones last week:

Joe Wilson isn’t just some mean-spirited buffoon. As a South Carolina legislator, he was one of only 7 state senators who fought to keep the confederate battle flag flying over the state capital. South Carolina, of course, was the first state to leave the Union after Lincoln was elected. Flying the confederate battle flag was a big deal in the south, which was once—and in some cases is still—inhabited by the KuKluxKlan and its successors…

The decision to fly the Confederate battle flag was made by an all-white legislature in 1962 as the civil rights movement was picking up steam. The bill passed in 2000 didn’t even remove the flag entirely—it called for a different version of flag to be flown in front of the state house instead of on top of it.

The continued presence of a Confederate flag at the state house has caused the controversy to continue. In July 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference—after discussions with the NAACP—decided to move three future college baseball tournaments out of South Carolina.

Jimmy Carter, who knows this world well also, called Wilson’s outburst “a dastardly thing to do”–which implies, as many others have, that it was a calculated move and not a spontaneous outburst. Responding to the personal attacks on Obama at town hall meetings and similar venues, Carter said: “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on healthcare.”

Likewise, the attacks won’t end with health care reform. They’ll just roll on into other issues on the President’s agenda. Leaders of the Republican Right, whether or not they are deeply racist themselves, are determined to bring Obama down–and if the racism of their constituents does the job, so be it.