Oil-backed conservatives have been absolutely ecstatic over the collapse of American solar-power company Solyndra and the rise of China as the dominant country in green energy, because they think they can turn this into a story that makes President Obama and government look bad. It also gives them a bonus opportunity to attack alternatives to coal and oil.
So is there really a “scandal” behind what happened to Solyndra? Or is this just one more conservative smear, made up from whole cloth and spread around conservative outlets, talk radio and FOX News, hoping the “mainstream media” will be tricked into propelling the propaganda out to the public?
The Smear Machine
When Bill Clinton was president, conservatives developed and refined a “smear machine” technique of making up accusation after accusation after accusation (after accusation after accusation), repeating them endlessly and hysterically in conservative-funded outlets, and working to get major media outlets to pick up and repeat them. Unfortunately they were often successful at driving phony smears into the public arena. Even though the stories were invariably refuted after investigation, by the time each smear was refuted many, many more were circulating. After a while people began to believe “where there’s smoke there’s fire.”
One such story that major outlets repeated involved the supposed “sale” of an Arlington cemetery plot for campaign contributions. When it was proven to be nothing more than a false smear, the repetition in major outlets was justified“because it’s just the sort of thing he might have done.”
In the 2004 presidential election we saw the process repeated with the “Swift Boat” smear that turned around Sen. John Kerry’s lead in the polls. It was entirely a made-up lie, but the mainstream media picked it up and propelled it.
Since President Obama’s election, right-wing media outlets have again been engaged in creating a constant stream of negative and destructive “stories” that try to turn the public against the president, Democrats in general and government itself.
We have been told that the President is secretly a Muslim terrorist, was not born in the United States and therefore is an illegitimate president and is a “socialist” out to destroy our way of life. They have claimed he raised taxes when in reality he cut taxes, that he “tripled the deficit” when in reality he cut the deficit from the $1.4 trillion hole Bush left us in, that his stimulus plan “created zero jobs” when in reality it turned around a rapidly-deteriorating economy, that he has dramatically increased spending when in reality he did not—all in an attempt to turn people against him and against the idea that government can be a force for good. (See Three Charts To Email To Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law.) Accusation after accusation has been shot down.
The Top Five Lies
Now they’re at it again, this time trying to turn the unfortunate bankruptcy of a solar-power company named Solyndra into an all-out, anti-Obama and anti-government attack. Here is a countdown of the top five lies they are telling about what happened with Solyndra:
5. The biggest investor in Solyndra was an Obama donor.
Conservatives (and now picked up by corporate “mainstream” outlets) make the accusation that there was corruption in the process by which Solyndra received its loan because a major Obama donor named George Kaiser is a major investor in Solyndra. The charge is that Solyndra only received the loan guarantee as a result of campaign contributions by people “connected to” Solyndra. The problem with this is that George Kaiser was not an investor in Solyndra. According to Tulsa World,
In an emailed statement to the Tulsa World, a representative of the George Kaiser Family Foundation said the organization made the investment through Argonaut.
“George Kaiser is not an investor in Solyndra and did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan,” the statement said. “GKFF invests in a globally diversified portfolio across many different asset classes.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation is a philanthropic organization, which means Kaiser (or anyone else) could not personally profit from a successful investment by the foundation.
4. Green energy is a bad investment.
Oil-connected conservatives have been trying to kill off investment in green energy for some time. They see opportunity in hyping up a “scandal” over the bankruptcy of Solyndra as a way to attack the idea of developing a green-energy industry in the US. Just today, Heritage Foundation, which for months has been attacking the idea of creating green jobs, has this today: Solyndra Scandal Ends Green Jobs Myth. (I have several examples of conservative attacks on green manufacturing in the post, The Phony Solyndra Solar Scandal.)
Just in the last year China gave $30 billion financing to 6 solar companies. If the benefits from developing a green energy industry that provides lots of green jobs are a myth then why is China putting so much into this effort?
3. The government lost money “picking winners and losers.”
This is a core line of attack by the right. By tricking the public into thinking that the purpose of government’s efforts to trigger a green-energy industry was to make money for the government by investing in individual companies, they can make this look bad because one company went into bankruptcy. But the purpose of our government’s involvement in this is to help trigger an ecosystem around which a green-energy industry can grow. When a new technology is promising, it might be risky to investors, but very beneficial to us as a country to pursue it. That way we end up with a chunk of the millions of jobs and trillions of dollars that result. That benefits everyone.
The government does not operate like a venture capitalist, investing in companies with the hope of reaping a profit for itself. Compare the effort to trigger a green-energy industry to government-funded cancer research. Some directions of exploration don’t pan out. But you don’t know that until you fund the tests. This is what happened with Solyndra. The loan guarantee enabled Solyndra to get private investment, and hire researchers as well as manufacturing and other employees, to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the U.S., to develop a supply chain, to buy equipment and the other components that would make a viable business. This was part of the stimulus and all that money was moved into the economy. And all of those are still in the United States, ready to be part of scaling up a green-energy industry. So where the country is concerned, we didn’t lose at all.
The goal was not to make Solyndra a successful company; the goal was to trigger an ecosystem for the green-energy industry in the U.S. Weren’t the things the money was used for good for the country? Even though the company Solyndra didn’t make it, the money created jobs and leaves behind technology, equipment and facilities that other companies will use.
2. The Solyndra loan was rushed or pushed.
This loan originated under the Bush administration—and for good reasons. Following the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Bush administration began efforts to cultivate a U.S.-based green-energy industry. Solyndra offered a promising technology and applied for loan guarantees. Following a review by career professional in the Department of Energy olyndra was asked to provide more information. A few months later, under the new Obama administration, the same career professionals received the requested information and proceeded to approve the loan.
The Energy department imposed some conditions, and a few months later those conditions were met, and the timeline of meeting the conditions meant it happened under the new administration but was handled by the same career professionals. It was the right thing to do for the country to suggest the loan under the Bush administration, which did nothing wrong. Approving the loan under the Obama administration also helps the country because that money went toward helping develop that ecosystem that creates companies and jobs. Stories about rushing the approval are meant to make it sound as if it was done to help a major campaign donor who, as point #1 above makes clear, was not the investor. It is the only reason the timing is an issue.
The Number One Lie
And the number 1 lie told by conservatives is:
1. Something bad happened.
The right has been trying to push the idea that something bad has happened involving Solyndra. They are calling it a “scandal.” But it is entirely a manufactured scandal, like those from the Clinton era. This is what they do. Nothing bad happened.
The supposed campaign donor/investor is not an investor. The timing of the loan is not suspect, it followed the proper, transparent, accountable procedures. The loan assisted the development of a promising technology. The green-energy industry stands to create millions of jobs and trillions of dollars for the countries that are smart enough now to make the investments that help them grab a chunk of it. The loan was good for the country, even though one company went bankrupt.
But by the time this smear is refuted, five more will have taken its place.
Dave is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future.