The Age of Missing Opportunities


Change is hard. You see that most when people who can change and should change don’t change. We voted for change in 2008. There was no mistaking that. President Obama campaigned vigorously on this theme and seemed to personify it by his very being. So you can imagine how hard change is when people who are all about change don’t want to change.

Bill McKibben recenty visited the White House to be told: there will be no change to the roof of the White House, no solar panels will be installed there. Conservatives, I’m sure, will shower lavish praise on President Barack Hussein Obama for continuing this tradition first established by Ronald Reagan. Progressives on the other hand, well here’s McKibben…

And a confession. We’d walked past Obama’s official portrait on the way out, and despite the meeting we’d just had, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that he was president. I could remember my own enthusiasm from two years ago that had me knocking on doors across New Hampshire. I admired his character and his smarts, and if I admire them a little less now, the residue’s still there.

And so I couldn’t help thinking — part of me at least — like this: The White House political team has decided that if they put solar panels on the roof, Fox News will use that as one more line of attack. Jimmy Carter comparisons aren’t what the administration is after.

If that’s their thinking, I doubt they’re on the mark. As far as I can tell, the right has a far better understanding of the power of symbols. Witness the furor they’ve kicked up over “the mosque at ground zero.” My feeling is that we should use the symbols we’ve got, and few are better than a solar panel.

To be fair, if I were in the West Wing, THERE IS NO WAY I would accept Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, other than to donate to the Smithsonian. Instead, I would put up the latest and greatest photovoltaics money could buy. As McKibben says, a few solar panels are symbolic, but we need symbols in order to get the rest of the country to think about changing its habits. And we need capitols around the world to do the same thing.

The right wing and the main stream media parrot chamber might want to obsess over White House solar panels like they did the Ground Zero Mosque, or any of the other concocted scandals pointed out by Tom. These are just opportunities (now missing) for the administration to segue into all the positive things they are doing about clean energy. There is no reason to worry about linking solar panels to Jimmy Carter anymore. It is far better to link them to the BP disaster. It’s about clean energy versus dirty energy. Carter’s dilemma was about energy austerity versus prosperity. This administration’s dilemma is be about choosing the right kind of energy. [Note how austerity is bad energy policy but great fiscal policy!]

Change is hard when you let your fears run wild and imagine only negative outcomes. But change can be easier when you grasp the positive outcomes the change will bring, and have the confidence to forge ahead and make the arguments to convince fellow citizens. The West Wing lackeys are playing from an outdated political playbook. 2008 happened. It is time for the White House to be the change it wants to see.


  1. Jenny says:

    Just a reminder that Ronald Wulson Reagan had a middle name too. I expect there wassomepount you weremaking by including one and not the other but it’s a bit early for me to come up with it.

  2. Jenny – out of an abundance of caution, I will explain. The middle name is used repeatedly on conservative talk radio as a dog whistle. This sort of thing is not going to stop no matter how much the President tries to be bipartisan, or how much he tries to avoid being pilloried by NewsCorp. Mr. Reagan’s middle name offers no such parallel.

    I updated the post at “all the positive things they are doing” with this link. I think the administration is doing a lot of good work on energy. But I also agree with McKibben that these things aren’t nice-to-haves but must-haves and we need a lot more. We’ve seen failure at Copenhagen and now in the Senate on doing anything about Global Warming. I’m not laying all this at the President’s feet, but I’m not going to give him a pass for missing an opportunity like this one either.

  3. tombuckner says:

    Well, let me just say what I told a co-worker this morning: if Bush and Cheney were as slow as Obama and company to implement their agenda, we would still have a functional Constitution. Say what you will about those monsters, they at least understand (besides the importance of symbols) the importance of seizing the momentum and keeping it. From 2001 to 2009 it was bam bam bam, one thing on the heels of another, and the opposition had its hands full even reacting to one scandal out of ten!

    The “advice” Obama has gotten not to be “too ambitious” seemed to me 90% concern trolling (deliberate bad advice given in a concerned tone). Far better for O to have crammed a progressive agenda into the faces of his foes with tons of populist bully-pulpit. Even if he failed most of the time he’d still have gotten more done than he has with all his bipartisanship and pandering. And he could have kept them on the defensive with real investigations on the previous crime gang.

    But I’ve heard it suggested that someone with CIA/Bushist connections may have warned him that such an approach would get him what JFK got… and while I do not believe this, I don’t really disbelieve it either…

  4. Tom – I’ve had a similar sense that Obama is under some sort of invisible thumb. Some of his attempts to placate the right when he knows he’s not going to get any credit or votes for it (and then doesn’t) have been baffling. I too have considered the potential of the nefarious underworld. With all the efforts by right wing talk radio and other pundits to de-legitimize him as President while simultaneously stoking anger and rationalizing violence, I just hope nothing happens.

    Another explanation lies in our financing arrangements. Our debt to GDP stands at nearly 100 percent. A lot of our debt is held in foreign capitols. I doubt that when the phone rings at the Treasury Department, the conversation could be summarized by Tim Geithner telling the world to STFU. Given this, how the Republicans could favor extending tax cuts for the wealthy is even more baffling. We want to take the top rate back from Bush’s 35% to Clinton’s 39.5%, still one of the lowest top rates in the last eighty years. Nothing radical about that.