An oil dependence speech for Obama

Last week, I asked readers to “Name the BP oil disaster and write Obama’s ‘pivot’ speech to the climate and clean energy jobs bill.”  A few people actually wrote entire speeches.  Here is one by guest blogger Stewart J. Hudson, President of the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, suggests Obama deliver a speech centering on the next holiday weekend, July 4:

America is at a crossroads.

Do we continue our dependence on foreign sources of oil  —  Or do we stop funding regimes that are trying to harm America and the democratic values we hold dear?

Do we cling to the status quo, to the way things are  —  Or do we build a new American economy built on American jobs and homegrown solutions to our energy challenges?

Do we stay rooted in a partisan political stalemate  —  Or do we put national interests first and do what’s best for America?

You and I both know that the answer to these questions is that we must stop buying oil from regimes that want to undermine our democracy; we must begin now to build a clean energy economy; and we must put national interests first.

Almost 100 years ago a Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, also faced a series of crises that related to American security and natural resources.  At a summit of the nation’s governors he urged action based on his belief that the requirements of all those in national office were to be, “fearless, just, and efficient.”

Those words still ring true for those of us who are today privileged to serve the American people.  They are words that our soldiers live by every day.  They are words we associate with all those involved in providing for Homeland Security.  They are the watchwords of all Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, and those who may have no party affiliation but care enough about our future to do something about energy independence now rather than leave this task to future generations.

So to honor you, and the words that Theodore Roosevelt held dear, I have today invited Congressional leaders, from both sides of the aisle, and our nation’s Governors to attend a summit in Washington the week of July 4th.  Our goal for this two-day summit is clear””to unify us around a new approach to energy that can be discussed, acted on, and prepared for my signature prior to the November 2010 mid-term elections.

Rather than starting with a blank slate, we will make use of the various resources at hand.  Three Senate leaders who have been fearless, just, and efficient are Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham.  They have worked together on energy legislation that represents a balance between regional interests and that would help fashion a new energy economy in the United States.  This is a resource we can use to make this summit a success.

We will also include in the discussion the climate and energy legislation adopted in the House of Representatives in 2009.  This initiative can also contribute to the goals of the summit being realized.

And we will include great ideas that have been developed outside of Washington, D.C. by Governors in states both Red and Blue.  We will also invite a panel of Mayors to better understand successful clean energy initiatives in America’s cities and towns””and highlight examples from all over America, there the business of building a new energy economy is already underway.

It’s true that we won’t be writing legislation this July 4th–but we will be discussing the architecture necessary for federal legislation to be finalized.

It’s true that we cannot involve everyone who has an opinion–but we will ensure that a range of perspectives is presented, discussed, and debated.

And we will be transparent.  Before the summit Americans will have the opportunity to pose questions, and to register their opinions on these issues.  We will provide a summary of these thoughts to all participants at the summit.  And of course the summit will be televised “¦ and streamed live on the Internet.

Now there are many reasons folks tell me we should delay doing something about energy independence and national security.  They tell me that Congress can’t deal with any tough votes before November.  They tell me that the tragedy of the BP Horizon spill means we can’t pursue safe approaches to offshore drilling in American waters.  Some even suggest that government should sit this one out””that we should just trust the oil companies and the markets to direct U.S. energy policy.

But this July 4th we’re not going to listen to the voices of business as usual, to those arguing for delay or inaction.  Will we be successful in this effort?  I honestly don’t know.  Yet we will never know until we try.

Fearless.  Just.  Efficient.  With these words to inspire us, I become more confident that we can succeed.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate America’s Independence and the 4th of July.

— Stewart Hudson is president of the Tremaine Foundation.

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18 Responses to An oil dependence speech for Obama

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo, and …

    This is great, and thanks Stewart.

    That said, I’d like to offer a couple additional quotes (to be considered by anyone actually considering doing such a speech), and I’d also like to add one additional point, regarding something that I would do differently.

    First the quotes …

    “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
    — Thomas Jefferson

    “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
    — Albert Einstein

    And now for the thing that I would do differently in the speech (in other words, that I would add to the speech, because I do like the vast majority of what you already have) …

    I wouldn’t shy away from the climate change problem as being a main reason for making the transition from oil asap. Indeed, although all the reasons you mention are vitally important, I think that the climate change problem provides the most important reason. (That said, I’d be happy for it to be listed strongly as one of the three main reasons.) The way the speech reads now, climate change is barely mentioned and is given a back seat. And that’s a problem, I think.

    The bottom line is this: We, and our leaders, and Obama, lose credibility if we shy away from making that point strongly and confidently and sincerely. We may think that “the American people” don’t want to hear about that problem, and in the cases of many of them, that would probably be right, but no matter: Credibility is lost — big-time — if we don’t stick with facts and show that we, as humans, can indeed identify vitally important matters and not ignore them. It is a silly and credibility-losing thing for a leader (e.g., Obama) to talk about the necessary energy transition and pretend that we should do it for all the reasons OTHER THAN climate change.

    And also consider this: In my view, Thomas Jefferson didn’t write the Declaration of Independence, for example, out of a main concern for a piece of real estate that we call America and the U.S. As beautiful and wonderful as the real estate is, Jefferson was informed and motivated by ideals and by the well being of humankind. Nor did he think what he thought, and do what he did, merely or mainly so that we could later put Washington’s picture on a dollar bill. Again, he was informed and inspired by ideals and by the well being of humankind.

    So, it is NOT “un-American” to be crystal clear and deeply concerned about climate change, or to be clear and concerned about the well being of future generations and of all humankind. To the contrary. It is VERY American to be crystal clear about climate change, to be concerned about the well being of all humankind, and to be brave and intelligent and effective at facing and addressing the problem of climate change. Our leaders shouldn’t shy away from that point. If they do, they’ll lose credibility with me, they’ll fail to inspire me, and they’ll fail to get my vote next time.

    Even many of the people who don’t (for selfish reasons, I suppose) want us to address climate change do understand that it is a real thing and a real problem, to some degree anyhow. Many of the denialists aren’t completely stupid, of course. And even many of the people who say that they don’t even agree that climate change is a problem understand, at some level, subconsciously anyhow, that they are fooling themselves. In any case, most of them know that they haven’t really done their homework. So, Obama shouldn’t pander to the relatively small number of folks (or minority of folks, in any case) who don’t think climate change is a problem and who also genuinely think that they have done their homework and that they know why. Obama should speak truth, clearly, if he wants to retain credibility and if he wants to inspire. If he shies away from making the climate change point, he’ll lose credibility, period.

    With that said, I love the idea of such a speech, and the points in the text are great, but I would just be much more clear, and confident, about climate change. There are several reasons to make the energy transition, they are all vital, and they are all “American”.

    Be Well, and Cheers,


  2. mike roddy says:

    This was too much a business as usual speech, in my opinion. If men like Lieberman and Graham are going to write key provisions of climate legislation, the result will fall way, way short.

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    Mike, please don’t ignore political realities. It takes 60 votes in the US Senate to kill a filibuster and to date Republicans have used the filibuster to block almost everything that President Obama and the Democrats have proposed.

    Unless people like Lieberman and Graham are included there will be no climate legislation.

    Do not throw away progress because it doesn’t fit your idea of “perfect”. Progress comes in steps, along with the occasional step backwards.

    Take a longer view, look how this country has moved forward in stops and starts from what it was 50, 100, 200 years ago.

  4. mike roddy says:

    You’re probably right, Bob, that Kerry-Lieberman (so much for Graham) is better than nothing. But we have to know where to set the bar.

  5. Leif says:

    The longest journey begins with a single step, yet, we as a Nation, have failed to get off our knees.

    For that I put all blame on the failed, selfish, shortsighted vision imposed by the GOP.

  6. homunq says:

    In the “folks tell me” section:

    “Some people tell me that we should scale back our ambitions in order to get 60 votes in the senate. But our founders never intended to build a system where a minority has a chokehold on all legislation. I remain hopeful that we can get bipartisan cooperation to face the issues which are critical to our nation’s future. But if we can’t, the rules will have to change. Senators representing under 37% of Americans cannot be allowed to form a lockstep party of Republican No. A filibuster should mean extended debate, not refusing to debate or refusing to vote.”

  7. homunq says:

    OK, he can’t say “the rules will have to change”. Crybaby senators would whine about separation of powers, and it’s not Obama’s style. So: “I encourage my former colleagues in the senate to consider changing the rules.”

    Seriously, Obama has accomplished several minor miracles in getting things through the Senate. But passing needed legislation should not require miracles. It is his duty, and in his interest, to address filibuster reform.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if the filibuster – that is, some impossible-to-understand tribal custom – ends up dooming the world to the second-worst mass extinction event ever?

  8. Leif says:

    Why don’t the Democrats present a damn good proposal and let the GOP filibuster it and televise the whole filibuster nationwide for as long as the GOP want to take doing it? Let the GOP show the Nation that they are willing to fill the Halls of Government with tripe while Rome burns.

  9. Bob Wallace says:

    Getting rid of the filibuster.

    Obama could bluster on about it, but it takes a vote of the Senate to change the rules. And I think this can only be done at the beginning of each new session. And I think it takes 67 votes to make the change.

    We are dealt a hand of cards. The hand includes only 59 Senators in the Democratic caucus. That 59 includes people like Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu. We do not enjoy 60 Al Franken/John Kerrys, people who can be counted on to do the right thing and not bow to special interests.

    The trick is to play the hand dealt for the best possible outcome. Get the process started. At the minimum we need to tip the economic scales more toward renewables and putting any sort of price on carbon will be a huge aid.

  10. homunq says:

    @Bob Wallace: sure, only the Senate can change its own rules. Most constitutional scholars agree that there must be some way for 51 members (that is, senators or VP) to change those rules, or it would be unconstitutional prior restraint. (For the same reason, the senate can’t pass a bill saying “this bill can’t be revoked”).

    So that leaves two possibilities which would be consistent with the constitution: they can change the rules in midsession with 51 votes, or they can only do it at the start of a senate session.

    Current senate rules block both avenues. Rule 5 says that they start a session with the rules already in place; and rule 22 says that they need 2/3 (that’s not a typo – it’s more than the usual 3/5) of those voting to overcome a filibuster on rules changes.

    So current senate rules are unconstitutional.

    I’d argue that if they’re unconstitutional, you can ignore them, and make a mid-session rules change. As a practical matter, if the VP so ruled and 50 senators backed him up, nobody else could do anything about it; the supreme court stays out of internal Senate disputes.

    That’s a radical option, though. A more conservative way to restore the Senate to the majority institution which the founders intended would be to change the rules at the start of a session, by ignoring rule V. Again, if the VP ruled that there was a constitutional basis for this and 50 senators backed him, it would be a fait accompli. And in this case, the large majority of constitutional scholars would agree that it was indeed proper. (Even Republicans, going back to Nixon, have supported this process as constitutional.)

    What should the new rules be? Harkin has a proposal which I like. The filibuster would start at 60 votes, but would go down by 3 votes every 3 days. So if the senate was willing to spend weeks debating something, the threshold would eventually go down to 51 votes. Also, each bill should face a filibuster only once, before debate ends; the current system allows two or three filibusters per bill, which is just a pointless waste of time.

    Sorry, this is a bit OT. But I think this issue is key, and so it’s worth educating each other about it.

  11. homunq says:

    Note that the senate rule which says you can’t change the filibuster without overcoming a filibuster is appropriately numbered. That’s a good catch, that catch XXII.

    (Minor point @BobWallace: it’s not 67 votes, it’s 2/3 of those voting. If there were even one absent senator, it’s down to 66 votes.)

  12. Leif says:

    Great insights there, homunq. Thank you.

  13. Bob Wallace says:

    homunq – good info. But, fact is, we likely don’t have even 50 Senators for a truly hard-nosed climate bill. Democrats from coal and oil states aren’t likely to voluntarily hand their seats over to Republicans.

    The bill that gets to the White House is almost certain to be less than ideal. Perfect is not achievable but good enough is absolutely loose-able.

  14. homunq says:

    BW- Sure, agreed. But the bill we can get 50+1 votes for is almost certainly better than the one we can get 60 votes for. If we can get 60 votes for any bill.

    (I suspect that the best bill passable would actually get 54-55 votes, since many senators are herd animals. With the Harkin filibuster reform, that would still “overcome a filibuster” on the ~6th day after a cloture call.)

  15. homunq says:

    Oh, and Leif: “old fashioned” filibusters like the one you propose require 51 majority senators to stick around to keep a quorum, and only 1 minority senator to recite the phone book and call quorum every 10 minutes. And that’s the best possible case, when you have 51 senators eager to suspend all other business for as long as it takes. Since that’s unsustainable, the current system is that they just move on as soon as anybody threatens a filibuster.

    It sucks. But it’s not really a matter of spineless senators unwilling to face an old-fashioned filibuster; it’s a matter of spineless senators unwilling to radically overhaul the out-of-control filibuster itself. And it’s important to recognize that.

  16. homunq says:

    One radical overhaul would be to rewrite the rules so we could go back to old-fashioned “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”-style filibusters. But if you’re rewriting the rules anyway, why not put some finite time limit on that nonsense, as the Harkin proposal would?

  17. homunq says:

    Last comment, then I’m gone:

    If you’re talking about my “conservative” path to filibuster reform, there would be no bill passed until next year. So however you look at it, it’s a fallback position to passing the bill this year. But if you want to be able to do it next January, you have to start talking about it now. Obama, of course, has the biggest megaphone to do so. As an added bonus, having reform as a credible threat would be a remarkable motivator for the senators who hold the balance of power under the current system – people like Graham and Lieberman.

  18. J4zonian says:

    Hear, hear, Jeff Huggins.

    but I think there’s an even better reason to use different language and especially different reasons for doing this. If you use the wrong reasons as the justification for an action, you’re very likely to end up with the wrong solutions, feel like a truck ran over you and wonder what happened when it’s over.

    If you use US security as a reason you’re likely to end up with military solutions to a non-military problem; that would be both destructive and ineffective. If you use energy independence (especially in this country) as a reason you’re likely to end up with more coal-burning, corn ethanol and nuclear reactors. Wow. That truck sure was going fast wasn’t it? Hard bumper, too. Low slung. Hot muffler.

    Changing the Senate rules and well, really, accomplishing anything politically, is up to us. As long as we keep voting for the lesser of 2 weevils, or the evil of 2 lessers, we’ll keep getting what we voted for. As long as we keep voting for what we don’t want in order to not get what we REALLY don’t want, we’ll keep getting it—we’ll keep getting what we don’t want, that is, as well as quite a bit of the other. When we make it clear that any politician who doesn’t make AND KEEP clear specific pledges to change won’t get elected or re-elected, things will change. We’ve tried over and over and over and over and over and over to get the Democrats to do it; it hasn’t worked. Maybe it’s time to abandon them, vote Green, lose and let the Republicans back in until enough Greens, Democrats &/or somebodies can get elected to do something. Desperate? Yes. Aren’t we? At what point will we be, if we’re not now?