Thursday, February 18. 2010
Steve Benen: Georgia Senators Forget the President's Name: This is a good example of how Obama can't get any credit even when he does something wrong -- and wrong not in the sense of carrying on a discredited Bush policy like Guantanamo or military tribunals or free money for banker bonuses or bombing Pakistan with drones trying to provoke a civil war or carrying Netanyahu's water in his diversionary campaign to stir up trouble with Iran. More like wrong as in something he did completely on his own, trying to jump start nuclear power plant building by guaranteeing massive loans, saddling the public with all the risk while private companies reap the profits. Needless to say, Georgia's Republican senators are into that sort of thing, but not to the point of acknowledging that it wouldn't have happened but for Obama:
I can see the political logic, but usually when you can get the other party to do your bidding, you're at least civil about it -- if only to claim that even-so-and-so sees the wisdom of your policy. I suppose one can come up with several theories why the Republicans are behaving this way. One is that they're really worried that Obama will consolidate a center-right that effectively stifles the left while avoiding the pitfalls of the far right, thereby rendering the Republican Party useless to the ruling class: in this scenario, anything they can do to delegitimize Obama, even if it's just a rude slight, is necessary. Another is that they're just racists, pretending (as their forefathers did) that blacks are (or should be) nothing more than invisible servants. Of course, you'd think Georgia Republicans would know better.
As for Obama's pro-nuclear power stance, I can't say I approve, nor that it's one of his biggest mistakes. My UK missile defense correspondent wrote back that he was surprised and disappointed that I oppose nuclear power. That's not exactly what I think, but it is an approximation. I think the US nuclear power industry has a huge problem with waste management, and that until someone does something to get that under control it's irresponsible to build more power plants. I also think that proliferation hasn't been adequately thought through. In the beginning nuclear power plants were a front for nuclear arms production, and that aspect has never been cleanly separated out -- in large part because the demand for nuclear arms has never been extinguished. One major consequence of this is that the industry has never had anything resembling transparency, which has meant that it has never been possible to accurately assess risks. (One of the few assessments we have is that private capital has been unwilling to invest in nuclear power plants since the 1970s, or really forever given the role the AEC played.) More generally, there are lots of externalities associated with nuclear power plants, which have historically been ignored but really need to be reckoned. (On the other hand, one can argue that coal-fired power plants have greater externalities, but it's hard to compare without having full transparency.)
Moreover, there are political issues. In particular, we had the spectacle of George Bush running around the world promoting nuclear power yet recoiling when Iran bought into the argument. I am, quite frankly, more worried that an Iranian nuclear power plant might melt down than that Iran would be able to blackmail the world with nuclear bombs. This in turn gets wrapped up in the global geopolitics of energy use. I've read various things about how much usable uranium exists, which make it more or less attractive, but either way it poses a race to see who can use it all up first. And that gets to my deeper misgivings: I expect that we are headed into a period of energy use contraction, and expect that to have profound effects on how we live -- maybe for the worse, or possibly, if we get smart about it, for the better. I don't see a lot of value in throwing more energy investments at the problem just to avoid the day of reckoning -- although I don't mind relatively safe investments to soften the blow. It may well be that in the long run we need to figure out how to do nuclear power right, and make use of that. But we're not there yet, and I don't see a lot of evidence that we're headed in the direction of getting smarter. Indeed, judging from the Georgia Republicans in the Senate, I'd say the opposite is the case.
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