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 sure
that the pot holes in front of my house don’t get filled.”

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

Finally, the Illinois Senator returned to the vision of cities he set
out at the beginning of the speech: “we must stop seeing cities as
problems and start seeing them as the solution.” Indeed, Obama called
this 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 they
want 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 proposed
summer gasoline-tax holiday, he helped his campaign more than he hurt
it. Last week, he denounced McCain’s latest reversal, on offshore
drilling. But he needs to go further. A year ago, he likened “the
tyranny of oil” to that of Fascism and Communism, saying, “The very
resource that has fueled our way of life over the last hundred years
now threatens to destroy it if our generation does not act now and act
boldly.” This is the kind of unequivocal message that Obama needs to
develop.

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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