Obama: America “Cannot Walk Away” From the Automobile

In
his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack
Obama last night emphasized his administration’s commitment to keeping
the domestic auto industry afloat, while offering only a passing
mention to the nation’s mass transit systems. Said Obama:

As
for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad
decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to
the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad
practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined
auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it.
Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that
invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

With
energy policy at the top of his agenda, the president pledged
investment in solar and wind power, biofuels, "clean coal," and "more
fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America."

If indeed there are serious plans to include municipal mass transit
— which millions of working Americans also depend on — as part of the
mix, Obama is playing it close to the vest. Public transportation was
mentioned only once during last night’s speech. Along with "jobs
rebuilding our roads and bridges," the president said Americans would
be put to work by "expanding mass transit."

What did you think of the speech, particularly in light of the hit-and-miss stimulus package?
Do you remain hopeful that Obama "gets it" when it comes to the value
of public transportation in reducing oil dependence and fostering
sustainable communities, or is his seemingly unflagging commitment to
propping up Detroit too much?

Finally, is it true that
Americans can’t "walk away" from the automobile? This may be a valid
point. Our obesity epidemic and general lack of sidewalks make it
pretty tough to walk away from anything.

  • I was disappointed he didn’t mention mass transit more than that one time at the beginning. Was hoping he would get to it in his energy discussion. Specifically, I was at least expecting him to mention high-speed rail, since it was his office that pushed for the $8B in the stimulus package. . . but he made not a peep about it. Maybe because the Republicans have jumped on it as something they think of as pork, as wrong as they may be (McCain has been quoted as saying he’s angry that the extra money will all be used to fund a “light rail” between L.A. and Las Vegas. . . so he’s wrong on the facts, and doesn’t even know what mode of transportation he’s talking about. . . glad HE’s not president.).

    I still have hope that he “gets it”, but I’m disappointed he didn’t talk about transit or HSR in the speech. Everything he did talk about deserved the priority it got, and he seems to be focussing his energy policy on modernizing the electric grid. But I no longer think the rumors of him making HSR a “signature policy” of his administration are true.

    Still, in the end the speech itself doesn’t matter all that much. As a friend of mine once said: “If you want to know what this country cares about, watch the money. Everything else is just air moving.”

  • I was extremely pleased with the speech. It’s been a long time coming. You may think it’s a bad thing he only mentioned mass transit once, but that’s already one more time than I’ve ever heard from a President before. That means it IS on his agenda. It’s only been a month on the job so far!

  • Will Campbell

    I think Germany might have something to say about Obama’s contention that America invented the automobile. This may be the country that invented the automobile’s mass production, but it’s generally agreed that Karl Benz created the first gas-powered automobile in the mid 1880s.

  • nobody

    I doubt he gets it, he never seemed to care about it. Even though he lived in Chicago, he definitely lived in the one area of inner city Chicago not really served by the el. Hence, he might give some money for mass transit, but not nearly enough to expand it (though I think he may help become responsible for the beginnings of a nationwide ‘high speed rail’).

  • The speech didn’t show me whether he “got it” or not. It showed just how trapped our political leadership is to the the way things have been in the 20th century.

    The only “problems” that this mindset sees with the world are that things are changing, and so the “solutions” all have to do with making things go back to the way they were.

    Our economy needs an ever growing source of energy to keep growing as it has. That source doesn’t exist. Somehow we’ll invent our way out of that one with billions to put algae poop in our gas tanks. No mention of ditching the high energy requirements our economy has.

    We grow food using cheap fossil fuel, and have paved over prime agricultural land to build houses that are practically worthless without cheap fossil fuel. No mention of the U.S. massive industrial agricultural subsidies or suburban living arrangement.

    I think it amounts to this: we’re going to be taxed in a post-carbon world (taxed by the government and by circumstances) to prop up an oil-era lifestyle and economy until we’ve totally destroyed our chances of keeping a moderately high standard of living for our descendants.

    I am sick of hearing about all the homeowner entitlement programs! When will renting get the subsidies it deserves? When will moving closer to where you work become a tax benefit? When will riding a bike cut you more slack than owning a car? That would be change. This speech sounded like a lot of baloney to me.

  • i plan to bike as far away from the automobile as i possibly can. i really like obama. a lot. he is a politician. he has a job to do. part of his job is to protect tons of american communities that thrive on the automobile industry.

    if the bicycle industry were as important and politically organized as the automakers, you bet your sweet little brooks he’d be pandering to them.

    it’s just reality. there are tons of great, honest, hard working people that work for crappy, crappy car companies. part of what makes america great is that we care about each other (or should). obama is doing his best to watch out for them, i think.

  • Spokker

    You may not like it. I may not like it. But if the man wants votes and a chance at a second term, he’s not going to tell Americans they might someday have to give up their cars when oil runs out and suburbia becomes unsustainable.

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