During a recent Republican presidential debate, the conservative audience cheered the fact that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has presided over 234 executions, the “vast majority” of which he assured involved guilty offenders. Meanwhile, conservatives are up in arms that the federal government, through a loan initiated by the Bush Administration, backed Solyndra, a clean energy company that just filed for bankruptcy.
On the one hand, conservatives are attacking the role of government in stimulating jobs and new industry. On the other hand, conservatives are praising the role of government in executing its citizens. WTF?
Yes, people, government can make mistakes. I’m a liberal and even I can admit that. But let’s compare…
In 2009, the Department of Energy made a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra. In 2010, analysts suggested Solyndra might be losing its competitive edge in the market, but subsequently the company still raised an additional $175 million from private investors. Incidentally, Solyndra’s backers include George Kaiser, a donor and bundler for Obama, but also the Walton family behind Wal-Mart, big-time Republican donors. Solyndra’s CEO is a Republican as well.
The Solyndra investment is 1.3% of the $38 billion to be disbursed through this particular loan program, which in turn is only a fraction of government stimulus investments. Moreover, when the dust settles, the federal government will recoup at least a portion of its investment. About 1,100 Solyndra workers lost their jobs.
Still, the DOE loan program has created or saved over 65,000 American jobs. The government will get some of our money back after the claims of employees and certain investors are settled. Is it possible that, in the case of this one loan, the Obama Administration rushed to judgment for the sake of a photo op? Sure, it’s possible. But what’s certain is that China’s government invests 30 times more funding in new energy technology and jobs than we do — which is why Solyndra couldn’t compete. The path to a robust 21st century American economy isn’t exactly laid out on a stone tablet somewhere. In trying to get there, the public sector and private sector will both make mistakes. Using the misstep of Solyndra as an excuse to cut all government investment in the green jobs of the future will not only kill the jobs that have been created but will kill the chance of American competitiveness going forward.
Conservatives, however, seem quite comfortable killing things — whether jobs or people.
According to the Innocence Project, an organization that uses new DNA technology to re-examine the cases of death row inmates:
Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 209 years in prison – including 187 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit.
In 2004, Texas — under Governor Rick Perry — executed Cameron Todd Willingham who was accused of setting a fire that killed his three children. Willingham consistently plead his innocence and independent analysts agree there were extraordinary flaws in the evidence used to convict him. After Willingham was executed, a state forensics commission on the verge of examining the case and surfacing evidence of Willingham’s innocence was gutted by Gov. Perry and replaced by partisan cronies.
Compelling evidence now suggests that the state of Texas wrongly executed a grieving father. Do we put a price on that mistake? Is Cameron Todd Willingham worth more or less than $535 million? Maybe Willingham counts a bit more because he’s white while many conservatives accept the fact that the government executes innocent people believing most of them are black and must have done something wrong. Here I could point out that most death row inmates are, in fact, white — or I could point out that it really shouldn’t matter.
Of course this is a racialized debate. We have a black president who finalized a loan to support green jobs, a concept pioneered by underemployed communities of color and famously championed by Obama’s black green jobs czar Van Jones. Last night, a popular conservative provocateur on Twitter unfortunately had his home broken into. He tweeted:
This is a more explicit version of implicit conservative logic that “rationalizes” attacking government investment while endorsing state-sponsored execution: If government is wasteful and black people are dangerous, than black people running government is dangerously wasteful — but government wasting black people is A-OK.
Just once, I’d like conservatives to be skeptical of government abuse of power where it really matters — not just dollars and political scandals but the loss of innocent human life.