Barack Obama was in Oregon this past weekend, campaigning in a state he’s certain to win in November. Obama responded to attacks by John McCain on his intention to meet the leaders of Iran without preconditions. He also emphasized his environmental policies, because Oregonian voters are particularly green-friendly. At one point Obama said, “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.”
Certainly, Obama didn’t mean that, as President, he will issue an executive order prohibiting the manufacture and import of sport utility vehicles. He was simply evoking the SUV as a popular symbol of capitalist excess – tossing red meat to his environment-conscious audience, as it were. The sport utility vehicle is widely reviled by the environmentalist movement because it consumes a great deal of gasoline, and is arguably an irresponsible waste of energy resources.
At the end of the day, it’s just a big car. The demand for SUVs has declined amid higher oil prices in recent years, but trashing SUVs is a reliable applause line when speaking to a Democrat audience. So it’s not as if Obama is seriously suggesting that Americans will be disallowed from purchasing SUVs under his presidential administration.
Although, it’s always a tad chilling to hear a politician talk about what “we” can’t do. Politicians have a nasty habit of forcing private citizens and businesses to comply with their notions of proper behavior. Based on this off the cuff remark, Obama seems to think that Americans shouldn’t be driving certain cars, or setting their thermostats at certain levels, or eating certain hearty meals.
Of course, most Americans don’t drive SUVs. As for the thermostat, most Americans choose their temperature based primarily on personal comfort, but energy prices undoubtedly have an effect. And obviously, most Americans don’t make decisions on which car they purchase, or what thermostat setting they prefer, or how much they eat, based on what other countries might think.
During the 2004 campaign, John Kerry said during a debate that America’s foreign policy should have to pass a “global test” – a comment that President Bush immediately (and successfully) repudiated. Obama seems to think that America’s environmental policy must also be subject to the “global test.”
Obama said that America should lead by example with our energy policies, but the simple fact is he can’t force other countries to comply. There’s going to be a lot of new car owners in China and India over the coming decades, and there’s nothing that America can do about it. Obama is kidding himself (as are most environmentalists) if he thinks that leading by example will have any tangible benefit.
Pajamas Media’s Roger Kimball notes this July 1979 quote from then-President Jimmy Carter:
“I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation and for standby gasoline rationing. . . . And I’m asking you for your good and for your Nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense — I tell you it is an act of patriotism.”
No one wants an Obama administration to repeat the errors of the failed Carter administration. Unfortunately, the early signs aren’t exactly encouraging.