John McCain and his Republican allies tell us that if we can just get the government out of the way, the private sector can deliver all the alternative energy we will need. Don’t think so.
When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.
Boone Pickens can talk all he wants about building massive wind farms, but until the government helps coordinate and create a 21st century electric grid, we will make no progress. As Tom Friedman points out this morning, our country has a massive task of rebuilding ahead of us.
As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.
The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.
Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?
I know China has a long way to go in its freedom agenda, but you cannot deny that, as the World Bank reported yesterday, in China the number of people living in poverty fell to 207 million in 2005 from 835 million in 1981. That is an extraordinary achievement.
The main point that Friedman makes is that Obama has set himself out as the candidate that wants to rebuild America, and he cannot let Republican attacks take him off this mission and this message.
He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.
Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.