11 May 2012

Where Romney Puts His Energy

In November 2008, as I noted last month, Mitt Romney condemned the Bush-Cheney administration’s plan for loans to General Motors and Chrysler. More recently he condemned how President Barack Obama’s administration managed those companies’ bankruptcy, even though (a) it produced a healthier industry, and (b) he had actually called for a “managed bankruptcy.”

In the three weeks since my posting, Romney and his campaign have shifted to take credit for suggesting the action he’d just been condemning—without, of course, praising President Obama since that would alienate core supporters who exhibit OIP Derangement Syndrome.

“Even by Romney standards, this is ridiculous,” wrote Steve Benen on the Maddow Blog. Talking Points Memo noted the difficulties the new claim was causing for Romney’s Republican allies in Congress, who have attacked Obama for his success. But Romney’s inconsistency on this point simply reflects his overall inconsistency on how the US government should treat the car industry.

Back in 2007, Romney touted the value of more fuel-efficient cars this way:
I’m hopeful that with $3 gasoline being charged by [Venezuelan chief] Hugo Chavez and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin and others, that you’re going to see Americans, slowly but surely, move to vehicles that are far more fuel efficient and you’ll see our manufacturers start competing on the basis of fuel efficiency.

I sure hope we’ll see more and more hybrids and much better fuel economy, but it’s a must. We have to make our automobiles far more fuel efficient. I’d like to see to us really get up to 50 miles per gallon. The time will come that people will look back and say, “you’re kidding me, cars only got 25 miles per gallon then, you’re kidding.”
But when the post-bankruptcy General Motors started selling its Chevrolet Volt, that hybrid car with better fuel economy became anathema to Republicans, as discussed here. To reflect his target voters Romney had to adopt the same attitude, as reported in December 2011:
If you want to know exactly what Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney thinks about the Chevrolet Volt, listen to his laugh before he answers a question about the car posed to him during a radio interview on WRKO in Boston recently. Romney was asked what he thought about the car, and he responded with a dismissive-sounding laugh by labeling the plug-in hybrid an ”idea whose time has not come.”
So in 2007 Romney said he was “hopeful” that $3/gallon gas would make hybrids popular, which was “a must”—but in 2011 he chuckled about how, even though gas was near $4/gallon, the Chevy hybrid’s “time has not come.”

We can search charitably for consistency in Romney’s statements. For example, he might be speaking from a free-market stance, arguing that the government shouldn’t aid the industry in any way—no financial support, even tax rebates for hybrid cars.

Yet back in November 2008 Romney also wrote that the US government should increase spending to benefit carmakers:
I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research—on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like—that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration.
Since then, the Obama administration has pushed for more spending on new-energy research. Yet Romney broadly condemns the administration’s policy, especially on “new energy sources.”

Romney was thus for a “managed bankruptcy” of General Motors and Chrysler—except when Obama was in charge. He saw more efficient, hybrid autos as “a must”—except when Obama was in charge. He advocated much more federal spending on energy research—except when Obama is in charge. So the consistency is Romney’s opposition to President Obama being in charge.

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