February 5, 2007

"I want to take those profits..."

It was a statement that one might have expected to hear from Hugo Chavez this past week. But as carefully scripted and poll-tested as Hillary Clinton's public statements have been for the last seven years, once in a while, even her scripted words seem to betray her true colors. It happened in Washington Friday, in a speech at the DNC winter meetings, following the recent announcement of Exxon-Mobil Corporation's annual profits. From Fox:

"I want to take those profits and put them into an alternative energy fund that will begin to fund alternative smart energy alternatives that will actually begin to move us toward the direction of independence."

She referred to those profits as the highest in the history of the world, and she said: "I want to take those profits..." Not I want to take part of those profits. "I want to take those profits," she said.

Let's assume for a moment that Hillary isn't really suggesting a nationalization of the entire oil industry in this country on the order of what the doctrinaire socialist Chavez has just engineered in Venezuela. And set aside for now the fact that she has already tried once to socialize a huge segment (18%) of our national economy with her universal health care proposal, and has recently promised to try again in January of 2009.

And forget also for now the entirely logical potential that, in a booming economy, the world's largest corporation would post the highest corporate profit ever. One might even hope that this would be the case, since the health of our largest corporations is an indicator of the health of our overall economy. (By the way, in case you haven't heard, that economy is pretty damn good.)

I see this more as rhetorical red meat being thrown to the statist soulmates of Chavez in the Democratic Party, who must salivate at the prospect of the state getting their hands on $39 billion annually of someone else's money. Lacking the vaguest notion themselves as to how wealth on that order is created, their big idea is to simply appropriate it from people who do. Elsewhere in society we call that theft, and we have laws against it.

But in the Internet age it's tough to say just what your audience wants to hear without the rest of the world hearing it too. I hope she'll be called to account for what is an outrageous suggestion; that the profits of a public (or private) corporation are the government's to do with as they like, or that she would treat them as such in another Clinton administration.

-- As if the profits of Exxon-Mobil Corporation are not already taxed by the federal government to the limits of the existing tax code.

-- As if the federal government isn't already spending billions of taxpayer dollars every year to fund research and development of alternative energy sources. (Presumably the money extracted from Exxon would be spent more effectively or efficiently, and profits earned by other private companies and ventures funded with these dollars would be cool with Hill.)

-- As if Exxon is not already spending billions on alternative energy development themselves.

-- As if she is unaware that the last time a windfall profits tax on oil company profits was tried, the results were sharply reduced domestic oil production, and large cutbacks in oil company exploration and energy development spending, leading to tax revenues far lower than what had been projected.

-- As if the thousands of retirees who are Exxon shareholders, a divided Senate, and a powerful energy industry lobby would allow it even if she tried to make it happen.

In other words, this rhetoric isn't serious. And that makes it all the more irresponsible. Hillary is being dragged to the left by the demands of the party base, to make sure she secures the nomination. But the more of this kind of silliness she engages in, the more general election ammunition will be available to Republicans.

Investors Business Daily mustered some outrage, and PJM has an anonymously written post on Hillary's secret energy policy agenda, but as usual, the lady gets a pass from most of the major media organs.

On a related note, don't miss Taranto's take on Hillary today. I'll excerpt at length...but do read it all.

The most telling line in Mrs. Clinton's speech is that counterfactual conditional: "If I had been president in October of 2002, I would not have started this war." This is quite an astonishing statement, seeing as how in October 2002 Mrs. Clinton voted for the war. And yet when you stop and think about it, the statement is not intuitively false. If you can imagine Mrs. Clinton as president in October 2002, you probably can imagine her not starting the Iraq war.

Whether or not you think the war was a good idea, it was indisputably the product of President Bush's leadership. He rallied the country behind it, so that it commanded something like 70% support in opinion polls. Congress's support was similarly strong, with 69% of the House and 77% of the Senate (including not just Mrs. Clinton but also fellow Democratic presidential candidates John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, along with John Kerry) voting in favor of the war.

Mrs. Clinton now says that if she were president in 2002, she would not have led the country to war. This amounts to an acknowledgment that her vote in favor of the war was not an act of leadership--that she was a follower. Was she following the president? This president? Obviously not. President Bush led the public to support the war, and Sen. Clinton followed the public. Now that public opinion has turned against the president and the war, so has Mrs. Clinton.


...on Iraq, Mrs. Clinton stands resolutely on the side of public opinion, whichever side that may be in any given year. On Iran, about which public opinion is unformed, she is maddeningly noncommittal. This is fine for a senator, who merely casts one vote among 100. But the president--especially in times of international peril--needs to be able to make decisions in the national interest. Sometimes that means shaping public opinion, as President Bush did when he persuaded the public and Congress to support the war in Iraq. Sometimes it means defying public opinion, as Bush has done lately by resisting pressure to flee.

Were these decisions bad ones? History will judge, but at the moment most Americans seem to think so. Mrs. Clinton is seeking to become President Bush's successor by countering his dangerous boldness with extreme caution. She is presenting herself as the candidate who won't make bad decisions because she won't make decisions--who won't lead us astray because she will not lead.

But an excess of caution is itself a form of recklessness. Someone who won't make decisions won't make good or necessary decisions either. Therein lies the peril of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

Posted by dan at February 5, 2007 2:58 PM