Thursday, April 14, 2011

Election Season or Innovation Season?

I'm reminded recently of Daffy Duck fighting with Bugs Bunny, the duck demanding that it's Rabbit-Hunting Season and Bugs refuting that it's Duck Season. In this cartoonish analogy, President Obama is both Bugs and Daffy, in a shouting match with himself. It's either Investment Season or Election Season. It apparently can't be both.

There's a reason Energetics' subline is "A blog on climate, energy and politics." As frustrating as it sometimes is, the pursuit and achievement of goals on the path towards decarbonization and a clean energy future depend heavily on the institutional intricacies set up by our political landscape. The political infrastructure in place establishes the ability of our nation to invest in our future. President Obama's speech at George Washington University yesterday illustrated this notion, and his stump speech that ostensibly kicked off his 2012 campaign was often inspiring in its liberalism and rhetorical embrace of innovation economics.

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future we share.
...
I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs.
In place of "jobs," the President could have easily said "a national infrastructure renovation" or "a clean energy economy." All three are true, but the politics of the game will probably guarantee that jobs are the key focus of his speeches from now until at least November 2012.

Like Bugs vs. Daffy though, there is some trickery at play. The President is calling this moment Investment Season when it's shaping out to be anything but. The sweeping and not entirely insincere verbiage dedicated by the President to investing in a "future we want" is undercut by the recent budget debacle, where we see funds for innovation, science and research cut across the board. The Breakthrough Institute crunches the thoroughly uninspiring numbers, and while investments levels for FY2012 aren't quite as low as they would be if Congressional Republicans had their way, more often not the President and his allies came away on the losing end of the draw.

I believe the President would be better served by a more ambitious agenda, one that aims to significantly increase investments in our nation's transportation grid, energy infrastructure, education and technological robustness. Indeed, I wish Obama would act exactly like he said he would in his 2011 State of the Union address. Instead, we have conflicting messaging coming from his podium. "Invest in our future" is sidelined by "live within our means" and calls for the government to tighten its belt like millions of families across the country. Economists agree this is a red herring -- now is not the time to worry about the deficit, but instead a time to rebuild a nation whose citizens, infrastructure and resources will guide it out of debt in the future.

The President is going to win next year. But a victory without a bold agenda will ill-serve the needs of an American economy desperately crying for the investments it's been robbed of for decades. Obama need not fret whether it's Investment Season or Election Season. It's both. Investing in America's future is good politics, and Obama's characteristically hopeful and progressive political rhetoric needs a policy backbone that seriously invests in the future we want.

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