(Photo: REUTERS/ Kevin Lamarque)
For Republicans, the Solyndra scandal is ready-made to feature five of the main arguments they will use against President Obama in the 2012 election.
1. Wasteful Spending
The federal government loaned solar power company Solyndra $535 million before watching the company go bankrupt in 2011. The loan guarantee was part of the 2009 “stimulus bill,” which was supposed to, according to Obama, save the economy and keep unemployment below eight percent.
Though a half billion dollars represents only a tiny portion of the roughly one trillion dollars per year that the government has added to the nation's debt since Obama took office, it provides an example of one way the Obama administration has misused taxpayer dollars.
2. Crony Capitalism
Since Sarah Palin's “crony capitalism” speech in September, the theme has been heard from both right and left circles. Though Palin's speech was delivered at a Tea Party event, cries of “crony capitalism” could also be heard from the more liberal Occupy Movement. Many Americans have grown concerned that government and big business are working together for their mutual benefit, and to the detriment of everyone else.
The Solyndra scandal is an example of crony capitalism. This fact became even more clear after The Washington Post's in-depth analysis of documents released by the White House under threat of a subpoena from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. While Obama has decried greedy Wall Street executives and Washington lobbyists during his term, the documents show that the “right kind” of business executives (those from “green energy” companies) were given easy access to the halls of power.
Solyndra executive's plan for financial viability depended upon a tight relationship with the federal government. In one communication, a Solyndra executive described the need to go to the “Bank of Washington” as the company’s finances were in shambles. The company also sought to become a major supplier to federal agencies. At a fundraising dinner, George Kaiser, an Obama fundraiser whose family foundation was a major backer for Solyndra, pressed Obama for the need for a “buy American act.”
3. Reelection More Important Than Solutions
Republicans will argue that Obama makes decisions aimed more at helping his reelection than providing solutions to the nation's problems. For instance, Obama decided to pull troops out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2012, rather than leave them until the end of 2012, as his generals suggested. He voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but only until the end of 2012. He delayed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after 2012. And, most of the tax increases used to pay for his health care plan would not kick in until after 2012.
The Solyndra documents also show a White House more concerned about winning elections than getting the correct policy. Energy Department officials asked Solyndra executives to delay an announcement of layoffs until after the November 2010 elections. The Solyndra cronies, of course, obeyed the request.
Obama's handlers showed so much concern for the images Solyndra would present, they instructed Solyndra executives on what they and their workers should wear when Obama visited the factory. (One executive would wear black slacks, no tie. The other would wear a hard hat and white smock.)
The decision to not seek further bailouts for Solyndra also appears to be based upon the political calendar. By the time the White House realized that Solyndra was doomed, they likely decided it would be better to let it fail soon, rather than closer to the 2012 election.
An email early this year between two administration officials stated, “If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will arguably be worse later than they would be today. ... In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up.”
Republicans will argue that Obama was unprepared to be president and is in way over his head. The Solyndra scandal is also a story of incompetence that will play into this theme well. The Obama administration was warned repeatedly, and from many sources, that Solyndra was a bad investment and doomed to failure.
In just one example, Steve Westly, an investment fund manager with green energy sector experience and an Obama fundraiser, told presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett that Solyndra was unlikely to succeed and Obama's photo-op would become problematic as a result. “The president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall.”
5. “Green Energy” Versus “Drill, Baby, Drill”
Republicans will likely argue that green energy technologies are not yet a financially viable alternative to fossil fuels. With Solyndra, they have a readily available example. Moreover, Obama delayed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada to the refineries in Texas.
Obama's penchant for solar and wind power may satisfy his liberal environmental base, but it will not satisfy the nation's energy needs. With Iran this week threatening to block oil shipments from the Strait of Hormuz, 2012 could see a spike in oil prices. High oil prices would further play into Republican hands as they present Obama as one who bet, and failed on green energy, while blocking proven energy sources.