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

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

  • pitch

    I’m definitely concerned about Obama’s constant proposal to use corn ethanol even though it’s basically a dead end because using all of our corn supply will never amount to the fuel we need to operate as a country. If you look on his website though he mentions that he sees corn only as a step until we move onto other bio-fuels including methane, biodiesel and celluostic ethanol.

    Countries like Brazil have almost completely pushed aside their dependency on foreign oil as they use high energy crops to create ethanol. Crops like sugar cane used in Brazil and switch grass which is proposed in the US provide 8-10 times as much ethanol. Switch grass can grow in any number of climates on virtually any fertile terrain.

    Some parts of Obama’s policies have holes, but they are much more sound than McCains which continues to ignore the fact that oil is a finite resource.

  • Brazil has been successful with ethanol from sugar cane, which provides a much better energy return than from corn. But Brazil’s energy independence also comes from offshore oil drilling and lower per-capita energy use.

  • Wad

    Remember that Obama’s positions are just his opinions.

    Whether he can make them law is a whole other matter. Do both chambers of Congress share his position? Considering the gravitational pull of the status quo, and how little turnover there is in seats and changes of party control, Obama will see little of his agenda implemented.

    I seriously doubt a President Obama is going to use the newly created powers of the unitary executive inherited from Bush the Lesser in the public interest.

  • Was, I think you are partly right, but are forgetting how immensely powerful and American president is.

    Executives in our republic have the power to appoint the people who run our government. George Bush’s appointees have come from a pool of political buddies, and many of them were poorly equipped to deal with running a large bureaucracy. Worse, some of them actively politicized their nonpartisan offices.

    Those who surround Obama, and those he would appoint the various positions in our government, are much more likely to be interested in seeing our government run honestly, and in a nonpartisan way.

    That will have a big, positive, impact in our country. Imagine if the fleet managers of various federal departments decided that no government car would get mileage below 50 mpg, or that every federal building would be LEED certified. Or imagine if the Department of Justice pursued cases against those who have bankrupted our financial system, instead going after political opponents of the current administration. Imagine an EPA that granted California the power to limit CO2 emissions the first time it asked, and helped other states do something similar

    Obama doesn’t need the powers of the unitary executive – as president he’s got plenty of power to change things. Writing new laws and securing the money from congress to see new programs implemented is the job of the legislature – so it is always difficult for the executive to push an agenda on them (it is designed to be so).

    With the power of his office, many positive changes can take place without congress having to do a thing.

  • Wad

    Brayj, Obama still has to contend with Congress’ power of the purse.

    Those initiatives you describe require the funding or the legislation of Congress. To get the initiatives you imagine, you would need a significant progressive bloc of Democrats to be elected. Otherwise, you’d have a repeat of 2006: Democrats getting in office and smothering the voters’ will.

    And what about Washington? Elections are just one day out of a four-year term. The law brokerage service that is our system of government goes back to its job, selling legislation to interested buyers — lobbyists, PACs, the military-industrial-congressional complex. This is a 24/7/365 job.

    These buyers follow legislation and contribute money to the system for the rest of the office terms. They also contribute money to both parties, allowing them to hedge their votes, something the average voter cannot do. Plus, these buyers can shape-shift and adapt to any threat to their influence and manage to protect their privileges.

    Obama knows this, and he didn’t get this far by becoming a threat to the system. In fact, the system loves a guy like him, since people are so enamored by his personality that they are forgetting they’ll get the candidate and be happy with just that.


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