November 03, 2009

Unsustainable Cheney vs. Sustainable Gore

After the American Century

In recent weeks two vice-presidents have been in the headlines. If either of them were a prospective presidential candidate, this would hardly be unusual. But Dick Cheney is too old to be considered realistically as a candidate, and his health is also a question. And Al Gore clearly does not want to run for president again, after passing up the 2008 campaign.

Both men are in the news because they can be taken to represent opposed elements in American politics. Cheney the former oil executive who is a hard-liner on foreign policy stands in stark contrast to Gore, the advocate of green energy who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Both men have been willing to "put their money where their mouth is," by which I mean they have invested their personal fortunes in the kinds of industries they believe in. Curiously, however, only Gore seems to be in the spotlight this week. He has been criticized for investing in the green technologies that he wants governments to adopt. This is no different than Cheney, who vigorously defended the coal and oil industries while serving as vice-president, except that Gore is not in office. He is a private citizen, and there is no conflict of interest in his case. Gore has never worked as a lobbyist. So the charge that Gore might profit from green energy investments seems idiotic coming from Republicans. Do they have something against business now?

It would be in order, however, for Congress to hold an investigation into Dick Cheney's relationship to Halliburton while he served as Vice President. Cheney retained many personal ties with Halliburton while in office, and that corporation was given multi-billion dollar contracts to rebuild Iraq - often with no competitive bidding - on the grounds that the response had to be rapid and asking for and evaluating bids took too much time.

Then there was Dick Cheney's big gift to Halliburton in the 2005 Energy Bill. A provision was added to that bill, at Cheney's request, which took away from the Environmental Protection Agency the right to regulate some forms of oil drilling. In particular, a process invented by Halliburton called hydraulic fracturing was exempted from EPA control. And, yes, hydraulic fracturing can lead to pollution of the water table, as toxic chemicals are involved. For more on this, see the article in the New York Times. This addition to the 2005 Energy Bill is often called the Halliburton Loophole.

This then is the contrast. On the one side, Dick Cheney, a vice-president who used his office to protect and enrich the company where he used to be chief executive. On the other side, Al Gore, a former vice-president who as a private citizen has put his own money into green technologies. Is it really impossible for Republicans to see that Cheney is a reprehensible self-serving pawn of special interests? Apparently so. Is it really impossible for Republicans to see that Gore is an idealist working within the capitalist system, risking his own money on what he believes in? Again, apparently the Republicans really are this inconsistent and blind.

The persistence of such Republican misconceptions helps us to understand why they are able to see "drill baby drill" Sarah Palin as a feasible presidential candidate.