Does Caroline Kennedy have the right DNA and experience to replace Hillary? Is Obama's choice of Rick Warren another example of the president-elect giving conservatives the visual while later giving progressives the policy?
Interview with Bracken Hendricks of Center for American Progress, Dec. 20, 2008.
GREEN: You and your co-author Van Jones argue that pushing for green jobs can help resolve both the economic and energy crises. How can a "Green Deal" do that?.
BRACKEN HENDRICKS: Well, just as the problem of global warming is staggering, the solution is equally as profound. To solve global warming means a very, very substantial program of investment. It means rebuilding the fabric of our cities, transportation infrastructure, making homes and buildings healthier and more efficient, cheaper places to run and operate, and better places to live. So, there's a whole set of very productive and fundamental investments in the economy, in communities, that can be made today that will help put us on the path to a low-carbon economy. And that interestingly can create a very substantial numbers of jobs. These "green jobs" that we talk about in the chapter of your book Change for America, and most recently in the economic stimulus program, are more labor intensive, the content is more domestic, and they're concentrated in construction and manufacturing.
GREEN: While this is an opportune time to invest more because of a stagnant economy, might it also be a problem if consumers think they may have to spend more on energy just when they have declining incomes?
HENDRICKS: This is a really important question. A lot of times people confuse climate solutions with driving up energy prices and driving up costs to consumers. That's not necessarily the case. When we talk about investing through a stimulus package and creating "green jobs" in a transition to a low-carbon economy, we're actually talking about driving down the costs of that transition. Like investing in a smart electrical grid. It's important public infrastructure, it's job creating. But it also enables consumers to realize very significant savings and it allows utility companies to avoid the construction of new power plants that would just be fueling waste. If we can dramatic ally increase energy efficiency, we can help reduce costs for consumers. Also, as we bring new renewable energy online, we're talking about a much more diverse market for energy sources and more ability to swap between systems. And we're sinking capital costs into energy systems that then, over their useful life, are very stable. So we're talking about reducing demand for coal, natural gas, and oil, so that there are fewer price spikes, less demand pressure and those costs will rise more slowly over time. And we're talking about more consumer choice. I guess one last point that's really important to remember is the price of energy is not what we care about. It's actually the bill that we pay. In California, consumers there pay some of the highest price per kilowatt for electricity in the country. But the average bill of the California family is exactly at the average of the country. Why? Because they use energy so much more efficiently because they've got smart building codes, and they've had a decade of policies that have been systematically improving the energy efficiency of buildings.
GREEN: But wouldn't so-called Cap and Trade, if correctly imposed, increase price?
HENDRICKS: It's something we have to be very careful of with a cap and trade program. Putting a price on carbon is very important in terms of the fundamental economics. We have a system right now where we have a depleteable public resource - the atmosphere - that is getting used up. We're filling it with carbon, and we can't afford to do so. The economics facing our entire economy encourage companies just to send out more pollution because it's free. We need to create better incentives to conserve and to bring new energy online. As we do this, though, any impact on energy prices will impact low-income people first, and it will effect the economy overall. So, we need to manage that impact. According to our proposal, half of the $50 billion to $350 billion revenue generated annually would go to lower income families possibly affected by Cap and Trade.
Interview audio can be found at airamerica.com
Panel discussion with Bob Shrum, Joe Conason & Mark Green
GREEN: How has Caroline Kennedy suddenly gone from the most private Kennedy of her generation to the possibly most public?
JOE CONASON: It does seem sudden, Mark in part because it doesn't seem very well-prepared. At least, in the past week, she's gone forth to meet with people upstate and ended up running away from reporters, in a way that I don't think would've happened if this had been planned a little more in advance. On the other hand, I do think that this has been orchestrated behind the scenes by some very experience political operatives, including her uncle Ted, who I believe has talked to a number of people in the Senate about this.
GREEN: Let me interrupt -- how do you know Senator Kennedy has spoken to people?
CONASON: I don't know, I'm saying it looks to me that it looks orchestrated by on high by a number of important people, presumably including her uncle, I should say. He's known to be very much in favor of this. Mayor Bloomberg, who's top operative Kevin Sheeke, has been identified as somebody who's been helping to orchestrate Caroline Kennedy's foray into this Senatorial "initiative".
BOB SHRUM: First I should say that I happen to know that Senator Kennedy is not making calls, and the New York Times had a story to that effect, and then had to run a retraction the next day. Look, I think this a more gradual process than people have understood. She spoke to the Democratic convention in 2000, her children have gotten older, and this year she campaigned across the country for Obama. I think that a lot of attention was focused this week on the episode Joe talked about, I guess it was in Syracuse when she didn't talk to reporters. Less attention was paid to the fact that two hours later in Rochester she took questions and handled them just fine, and I think people will see more and more of that. I know her, you know her, she's very smart. The one thing I disagree with Joe about is I think she actually decided this year that she really likes politics, that she really enjoyed what she did for Obama. We may lose sight of something here, which is she felt very strongly that Obama should be the Democratic nominee and the president because I think she felt very strongly about changing the country, and I think she wants to be part of it.
GREEN: Hillary Clinton had a lot of experience as the wife of the Arkansas governor and President, where she was roughed up and toughened up in public life -- and then she had a year and a half to slowly immerse herself into the political waters and seek the Senate. Caroline Kennedy has had none of that. She's at the disadvantage of never having to run that gauntlet and now she's in effect having to go from zero to 60 in five seconds.
SHRUM: But there's not a lot to criticize her for. Least that I'm aware of, and I know her very, very well. People may criticize her positions -- and she does have some very developed views on these issues with her advocacy for national health reform, which if she's a senator, I expect she'll take a lead on. Peter King says he's eager to take her on. I think he'll be collecting his congressional pension after the race.
GREEN: How would either of you characterize Obama's cabinet in terms of philosophy, quality, and range?
CONASON: Well, I would say, in those terms, it's probably the most diverse cabinet that has been assembled. I mean, even more than Clinton had and his were pretty diverse. You know, the appointment of the labor secretary Hilda Solis, who is the daughter of Central-American immigrants, who were manual laborers and union members, is a huge step forward in this country. But there's a wide, wide variety of people; Everybody from Bob Gates and the former deputy CIA director, to Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, an African-American. I mean, it is a hugely diverse group, and I think very much chosen by Obama to represent his promise to govern the whole country.
SHRUM: My view is that it's immensely talented. It's a team of rivals in terms of him bringing in people who ran for the nomination as he did. The diversity seems to have been achieved without a lot of attention being paid to it. It just sort of happened. And as we went along, people were saying "Oh yeah. That probably is the best person for that job". I hope that this cabinet, which is very broad in terms of its reach and its appeal, is a foundation that he'll use to move to big, progressive change. My own sense is that is the direction that he's moving in. I mean, when you're starting to talk about a stimulus package that could reach $800 billion or more, you're talking about really big change.
GREEN: What did get a lot of attention was Obama's choice of Pastor Rick Warren for the invocation at the Presidential Inauguration. Was this a shrewd reaching out to evangelicals or a political mistake by infuriating the gay community?
CONASON: I think that if you're going to do something that outrages a portion of your base, but you have your own good reasons for doing it, the very beginning is a good time to do it. Because it gives plenty of time for it to be forgotten and to be compensated by action that I believe he will take that will be pleasing to the gay community.
SHRUM: Politically this may work out in the long term. Especially if Joe turns out to be right and the new president goes on and does some of the things that he's promised to do in terms of equality. It was insensitive to do it in this way, if he was going to do it at all. I think, at least, he should've talked several people in the first place and told them it was going to happen. He didn't have to say "can I have your permission?" But telling them it was going to happen would've been a good idea, I think.