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In Wisconsin, Obama Pushes Green Jobs

This is 'Recovery Summer.'

8:50 AM, Aug 17, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Menomonee Falls, WI

In Wisconsin, Obama Pushes Green Jobs

President Barack Obama spoke yesterday at ZBB Energy in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, touting the green company, the coming “green economy,” and his stimulus plan. Governor Jim Doyle was there, and so was U.S. Senator Russ Feingold. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who would join the president for a closed fundraiser later in the day, did not attend the public event.

Obama’s speech was less than twelve minutes and, like the economy, very flat. During the 2008 presidential election, Obama would give stirring addresses that had even some of his ideological opposites wondering if they’d simply failed to give enough consideration to the power of hope. He spoke directly and he connected to his audiences in a way that few politicians can.

There was none of that in Menomonee Falls. Obama spoke to the crowd of 100 from behind the presidential podium, but the address – a list of his accomplishments and some perfunctory swipes at Republicans – was pedestrian. For one thing, Obama stood on a stage and read the speech from teleprompters on his left and right that were placed at his eye-level – well above the heads of the crowd. So Obama seemed to be looking beyond the group of people gathered at his feet rather than engaging them. The crowd was polite and those I spoke to afterwards were genuinely pleased to have the president in the plant.

But they’re a small group, and the Obama administration had not only blessed them with stimulus funds but the president was showering them with public praise. And as the teleprompters suggest, they weren’t the target audience.

Obama has given nearly a dozen speeches this summer touting the stimulus and “green energy.” He has twice driven a Chevy Volt – at least a few feet. He has made stops at renewable energy companies and touted green batteries regularly. And yet his polling on the economy has not improved.

So is green energy the new health care reform? The president is positively obsessed with it, but most of the public seems either indifferent or hostile to the idea of spending their money on favored green projects. “I just want everybody to understand that just a few years ago, American businesses could only make 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles – 2 percent,” Obama said Monday. “In just a few years, we’ll have up to 40 percent of the world’s capacity.”

That’s great. And I suspect that if it had happened naturally – without billions of dollars in other people’s money – more Americans might be enthusiastic about it. But I get a strong sense that the unemployed don’t care if they succeed in some abstract green economy of the future. They want a job in this one. And they’re skeptical about all of this government spending and cynical about the process that produced it.

There are reasons for this. After Obama’s speech, ZBB CEO Eric Apfelbach appeared on a local radio station to talk about the visit. The hosts asked him why his company was chosen for the presidential visit.

“I’ve gotten to know Governor Doyle pretty well. I know Mayor Barrett. Barrett did a press conference here earlier. Doyle did one for me when I was at Virent Energy.”

With that kind of political help, maybe it is easy being green.

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