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Election 2008

Obama, Ethanol, and the “New Metropolitan Reality”

In a weekend speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Senator Barack Obama continued to distinguish himself on urban policy, talking up cities as vital economic centers worthy of investment. Harry Moroz of DMI Blog has the story.

Obama opened with a reference to his time as a community developer in Chicago and he joked (I paraphrase):

“You know if I’m president I’m going to talk about cities. If I don’t,you know you can just talk to [Chicago] Mayor Daley who will make surethat the pot holes in front of my house don’t get filled.”

Obama called for a new vision of cities, one that recognizes the growthof both cities and metro areas... Strong cities, Senator Obamasuggested, are the backbone of regional growth and regional growth thesource of national prosperity.

Finally, the Illinois Senator returned to the vision of cities he setout at the beginning of the speech: “we must stop seeing cities asproblems and start seeing them as the solution.” Indeed, Obama calledthis the “new metropolitan reality”.

In highlighting the differences between himself and his presumptive opponent in November, Senator John McCain, Moroz writes that Obama "attacked Senator McCain’s criticism of the COPS program and
Community Development Block Grant funding, both of which are major
priorities for mayors." Meanwhile, a "Talk of the Town" item from this week's New Yorker posits that Obama is the real straight-talker of the two candidates for president, and suggests that staying the course on issues like energy policy will help him with voters.

Obama promises to tell voters what they need to know and not what theywant to know. It’s a risky strategy, and one he doesn’t always follow,but when he put it into effect in April, by attacking McCain’s proposedsummer gasoline-tax holiday, he helped his campaign more than he hurtit. Last week, he denounced McCain’s latest reversal, on offshoredrilling. But he needs to go further. A year ago, he likened “thetyranny of oil” to that of Fascism and Communism, saying, “The veryresource that has fueled our way of life over the last hundred yearsnow threatens to destroy it if our generation does not act now and actboldly.” This is the kind of unequivocal message that Obama needs todevelop.

Though his overtures regarding passenger rail and cycling are impressive, Obama's credibility on energy issues is far from iron-clad. His ties to the ethanol industry, in particular, have led some to question whether his policies might be swayed by the parochial interests of the corn belt. (McCain, for his part, wants to end federal ethanol subsidies.) If Obama is to reconcile his support of cities with biofuel boosterism, it's going to be a heavy rhetorical lift.

Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press via the New York Times

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