They saw the whites of our eyes and fired the first shot, as we knew they would. And it's not surprising that the sniper of choice was the professor, the amiable and shuffling George Will, who is to public opinion what the aw, shucks faux folksiness of Ronald Reagan was to politics: poison.
Bill McKibben's entourage, bearing the Jimmy Carter solar panels that had been archived at Unity College in Maine, was rebuffed at the White House earlier this fall, one could easily see the political calculus that was driving Obama's staff. Carter, in the public's mind, is the icon for bumbling, ineffective do-goodism, and his calls for energy conservation, turning down our thermostats and wearing cardigan sweaters, along with the clunky White House solar panels, still function as a hound dog whistle call to the right. Ronald Reagan was applauded for taking them down as a disgusting leftist aberration. So no solar panels on the White House roof as of yet, said Barack. But then, veering back to the liberal base once McKibben had safely retreated back to New England and out of the headlines in the convoy of VW vans, our President announced he would indeed install solar panels on the White House as a symbol of the green energy and green jobs revolution that he has touted since day one as the top priority of his administration.
In his Washington Post column today, Will spoofs the move as a sign of the return of 1970s' nanny state over-reach, like the 55 mph speed limit, that led to public revulsion and the rise of the new Republican party under Ronald Reagan. He is right, of course, there is a similar backlash going on today. No-one could question the reality of what George Soros has called the "avalanche" of right-wing American anger, however misguided and ignorant of causes, at the health care reform bill and the stimulus package. But he is wrong to believe that the impulse to reform lies in some noblesse oblige desire to beautify the American way of life. There is genuine suffering when 40 million Americans are forced to go without health care, not to mention the economic distress it causes. There is surely a genuine need to wean ourselves from foreign oil, as even George Bush acknowledged. These are not liberal delusions, these are issues that need to be addressed, and a deregulatory, laissez faire approach to government intervention in the public sectors leaves us without a choice - witness the financial sector meltdown. It is too easy, not to mention satisfying to the ego, to rely on George Will's kind of ideological purity. It is the ideology of money, the Reaganite fixation on the bottom line as the only true metric. It is the ideology behind the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision, which conflates citizens with corporations when it extends to these the rights of free speech and has unleashed a barrage of shadowy advertising on this latest midterm election. If this corruption is triumphant in our body politic, it will also lead to a backlash of cleansing.