The political left meets economic reality

Who would have thought that free trade agreements and expanding oil and gas production would help President Obama as much, or even more, than green energy?

Well, it’s happening, and given the preferences of his political base, Mr. Obama does appear to be sheepish about it.

It was somewhat amusing to watch the rather subdued, hidden, and almost embarrassed environment of the White House signing “ceremony” for three recently enacted trade deals, which will reduce long-standing trade barriers for American products in South Korea, Columbia, and Panama.

While a Republican president would have touted those deals loud and proud, one does wonder if President Obama really thought his union supporters, who are reflexively opposed to new foreign trade agreements, wouldn’t notice that he signed them. It’s almost like he has to test how far he can go by saying, “Mother may I?”

Or is that “Richard Trumka, may I?”

Mr. “T” must have given his tacit, albeit reluctant, blessing.

Wisconsin manufacturers and farmers certainly noticed the passage of these bills, as they stand to gain by adding these three “emerging-growth” nations to a growing stable of foreign markets that already includes good customers like Canada, Mexico, and China.

Green, with envy

While green-energy boondoggles like Solyndra grab headlines, the dirty little secret is that domestic natural gas and oil production are helping to reduce our dependence on foreign energy. In an era of slow job growth, the jobs associated with these dreaded fossil fuels, particularly in energy-rich states like North Dakota – yes, North Dakota – represent one in every five new jobs being created, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Needless to say, domestic energy production could create a lot more jobs if we would capture oil in the north slope of Alaska, build the Keystone XL pipeline – a shovel-ready project if there ever was one – and get after other domestic energy sources.

As long as we’re going to be using fossil fuels, and we will be using them for a quite while, we might as well develop them here and use the proceeds from the resulting economic development to drive renewable and clean energy development. By this, I mean legitimate, concept-proven renewables, not the kind of crony capitalism represented by solar failure Solyndra, which wasted $528 million in tax dollars. Our national debt has reached the $15 trillion mark, which suggests we don’t have anything to waste.

The shame of it is that solar energy already has a strong niche in the market, and those dollars would have been better spent on research into improving its capacity and long-term performance, or not being spent at all.

If green energy is ever going to be the economic driver that information technology was in the 1990s and beyond, it’s going to take some time and commitment and wisdom. We need to do a better job distinguishing between foolish renewable investments and more promising ones, such as the government grants that have been awarded to Madison’s own Virent Energy Systems, which makes gasoline out of plant sugars, not crude oil.

In terms of green energy, the political left has erred by expecting too much too soon; some on the political right have erred by not expecting anything.

Given the enduring wealth-producing power of fossil fuels, the ongoing suspicions about the “scientific” community and its tendency to play politics with climate change (or was that global warming?), and the value of opening American products to new markets, perhaps the President will have more “stealthy” successes in these areas as he attempts to make the case for a second term.

Then again, he can’t expect Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, or the “enviros” to look the other way forever. Not to worry, Mr. President, you can always count on the GOP, the party that almost never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, to help you.

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