Obama Has a "Big Green" Solution to Big Green Problems

February 15, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama took on the auto industry again this week in his era-defining presidential bid--but unlike his fiery visit to Detroit last fall, Obama brought less of a blame game to Janesville, Wisc., and laid out more of his plans for a brighter future for industry towns like Janesville.

It's a shame he couldn't stop at "change," because the more I learn about Obama's ideas for the future, the more I feel like I need to raise my withholding for taxes. Of all the big spenders running for office this fall, Obama might be the biggest of them all.

I'm not as worried that he's a little spotty on the fact. He's a pure rookie compared to his direct opposition and his future opposition on that count. He does have some fuzzy ideas about the state of the union when it comes to unions: gesturing broadly to his crowd, Obama cited those "workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years." If anything, Obama misses the fact that it's the unions, particularly in auto plants, that have fought unfairly to win representation in transplant factories--trying to remove secret ballots, for example.

But Obama clearly knows how to captivate a crowd--and how to use charisma to cover up logical flaws and gaping maws in his policy initiatives. "We know that we cannot reverse the tide of technology that’s allowed businesses to send jobs wherever there’s an internet connection," Sen. Obama told the Janesville audience, knowing a town where hundreds of auto workers have been laid off might agree with the sentiment--even if it's hard to export auto-assembly jobs to India or other exotic tech destinations.

Those miscues don't worry me so much, but the fiscal slap and tickle he's playing with middle class America does. Obama may have no real competition in a presidential race full of new economic programs with no funding in sight.

"...We’ll require employers to enroll every worker in a direct deposit retirement account that places a small percentage of each paycheck into savings," he proposed. "You can keep this account even if you change jobs, and the federal government will match the savings for lower-income, working families." Aside from forcibly taking money from workers' paychecks, Obama would also simultaneously create the equivalent of 401(k)s that, in his words, would only be available to couples with children.

Last fall we pointed out Obama's fiery speech to a Detroit audience was riddled with ominous signs for the Big Three--and that was when the charismatic Senator was an also-ran in the race for the White House. “For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars,” he said then.

This time, he papered over those angry sentiments with billions of dollars of an unknown genesis, for a huge new government program to clean up heavy industry--the auto industry, in part. "My energy plan will invest $150 billion over ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades – jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. We’ll also provide funding to help manufacturers convert to green technology and help workers learn the skills they need for these jobs."

Hey, it's better than blaming Detroit for poorly-written fuel economy rules. But where's the sugar-daddy bank account Obama will need to fully fund this plan? Or any of his plans?

Even for a registered Republican like me, Obama is a truly captivating candidate. The symbolic value of electing him President might be the most powerful vote for equality this country's ever cast. But Obama's politics are troubling retreads of huge-government policy that would probably reverse decades of economic expansion.

Now that he's increasingly likely to be the Democratic nominee--and running slightly ahead of Sen. John McCain in head-to-head poll numbers--it's time to really consider whether Obama's call for "change" is something Detroit, and the country, can afford.

Still not fully captivated? Check out Sen. Obama's Wisconsin speech, in brief:

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