Mitt Romney: Obama’s Next Energy Czar?

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I suspect that Mitt Romney’s record of sane centrist achievement, along with his hilarious flip-floppery and unconvincing pose as a red-meat right-winger, will doom him in the Republican primary. But it would be a shame to waste his talents, so I’m going to start proposing possible jobs for him in the sane centrist Obama administration.

The obvious job, of course, would be health reform czar. But in New Hampshire on Friday, he showed that he might make sense as Obama’s energy czar as well, now that Carol Browner has left the White House. After trashing the president’s “awfully European” energy policy, he riffed about the need for the U.S. government to encourage European-style energy efficiency. Guess what? That’s what President Obama has been doing.

In fact, Obama signed the most aggressive efficiency legislation ever, pumping $25 billion into greening federal buildings, weatherizing low-income homes and other energy-saving measures. They were all part of Obama’s “stimulus” — you know, the bill Romney mocked as a “failure” in his paperback edition if No Apology, which somehow omitted his (correct) prediction in the hardcover edition that the stimulus would “accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery.”

But that’s all right; if Obama could offer a job to Judd Gregg, who didn’t really agree with him about anything, surely he could make room for a Republican like Romney who says he’d “like to see our vehicles, and our homes, and our systems of insulation and so forth become far more efficient.” In other words, he’d like to continue Obama’s policies! Obama has already brokered a deal with automakers and environmentalists to ratchet up the fuel efficiency for all new cars and trucks. He has also imposed stringent efficiency standards on microwaves, dishwashers, ranges and other appliances, while launching an unprecedented “Recovery through Retrofit” effort to improve the efficiency of homes and buildings.

OK, so in No Apology, Romney claimed those fuel-efficiency standards were “depressing the auto industry and its employment”—yes, the same auto industry that’s now adding jobs and making profits, thanks to Obama’s bailout, which Romney opposed. Republican dogma now precludes any government efforts to reduce energy consumption—from “Cash for Clunkers” to efficiency standards for light bulbs—as fascist assaults on personal freedom.

That really is a shame, because energy efficiency used to be bipartisan, and it’s about as close to a silver bullet as we’ve got for dealing with our addiction to fossil fuels. As I’ve written, you can think of it as:

a renewable-energy resource that is perfectly clean, remarkably cheap, surprisingly abundant and immediately available. It has astounding potential to reduce the carbon emissions that threaten our planet, the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our security and the energy costs that threaten our wallets. Unlike coal and petroleum, it doesn’t pollute; unlike solar and wind, it doesn’t depend on the weather; unlike ethanol, it doesn’t accelerate deforestation or inflate food prices; unlike nuclear plants, it doesn’t raise uncomfortable questions about meltdowns or terrorist attacks or radioactive-waste storage, and it doesn’t take a decade to build. It isn’t what-if like hydrogen, clean coal and tidal power; it’s already proven to be workable, scalable and cost-effective. And we don’t need to import it.

Also, it doesn’t require us to turn down the heat or put on a sweater or sacrifice comfort in any way. And reducing our demand through efficiency is much, much cheaper than increasing our supply through new nukes or coal or gas. This is why businesses are embracing it, and this is why it appeals to sane conservatives — remember when conservatives wanted to conserve? — like Romney.

But he’s not going to win a Republican primary talking about efficient insulation and reducing emissions. John McCain used to talk a lot about reducing emissions; I remember watching him introduce Laurie David’s eco-flick in Washington before he ran for President. I also remember watching him campaign in front of Republican crowds in Pennsylvania, where his only reliable applause line seemed to be drill-baby-drill.

Fortunately, I think Romney will be spared that embarrassment, because I doubt the GOP base will buy his I’m-one-of-you act. Crazy politicians can sometimes fool voters into thinking they’re sane; sane politicians have a much harder time fooling voters into thinking they’re crazy. But surely Obama knows that Romney is just pandering to the base.

The one potential problem with Romney joining the administration would be that after all his recent Obama-bashing, he’d really have to change his political persona. He might have to contort some of his principles and shade his previous positions as well.  I wonder: Is he capable of that?

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