Ron Radosh

Why Obama Turned Down the Keystone XL Pipeline

With our campaigner-in-chief’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to sections of the United States, President Barack Obama made what columnist Joe Klein today on Morning Joe called perhaps the worst political mistake of his entire presidency. After all, the scheduled pipeline meant, above all, the potential for perhaps 20,000 jobs immediately and many more in future years.


In today’s Washington Post, economics columnist Robert Samuelson spelled out the many advantages of the Keystone pipeline. It will not have a major impact on global-warming emissions, as the environmental activist community claims would be the effect if the pipeline were to be approved. Indeed, should Canada instead build a pipeline to the Pacific for Asian export, eventually shipped by tanker to China, there will be even more emissions and the risk of oil spills.

But more importantly, rejection means worse relations with our nearby good neighbor, as well as perhaps the loss of thousands of new desperately needed jobs that would help rejuvenate the economy. As Samuleson writes, no matter whether there are less or more than the 20,000 some claim, “it’s in the thousands and thus important in a country hungering for work.” And the pipeline is exactly the type of infrastructure project Obama supposedly favors.

Moreover, by vetoing it, Obama helped our competitor China, which is wondering “how the crazy Americans could repudiate such a huge supply of nearby energy.” Yes, it means we are still going to be dependent upon oil. But let’s face it, Obama’s big green energy push has gone nowhere, as symbolized by the wasted heavy investment in Solyndra and the hype about the electric cars that Americans have ignored completely. Shouldn’t our country have more trade in oil with Canada, rather than have to turn to the Saudis, and to Venezuela, or to other potential and current enemies?


The editorial endorsement of Obama’s veto by the editors of the left-wing New York Times (I have purposefully called the paper “left-wing” rather than “liberal,” since it is a more accurate description of its editorial slant) provides some insight as to what lies behind the veto by Obama. Noting that the State Department has primary jurisdiction over the proposed 1700 mile pipeline, it notes that it would “cross through ecologically sensitive areas in the Midwest.” Thus it favors a new “comprehensive environmental review.”

Keep in mind that reviews and investigations had been carried out, and none of them had concluded that the pipeline posed any real danger. The editors also make charges answered effectively by Samuelson in his column, such as the false claim that it would “cause far more greenhouse gas emissions” than if it was not built. They also argue that much of the refined oil would “be destined for foreign export.” On this issue, Samuelson counters that “this would be a good thing.” The exports would go to Latin America, keep refining jobs in the U.S., and reduce our trade deficit in oil.

So what, then, explains the president’s veto of the project? Here are my thoughts on the answer to this conundrum.

Recall the article appearing a few weeks ago, noting that the Democratic Party has decided to write off the votes of the white working-class in the 2012 election, which it has judged is going to overwhelmingly go to the Republicans. Instead, it has decided to try and increase the vote of the suburban upper-middle class and coastal elites, as well as the vote of college students who had been so enthusiastic about Obama in 2008. Without such an increase to make up for the loss of working-class votes (once a Democratic mainstay), the Democratic policy wonks believe Obama will lose.


On the campuses, and among East and West coast types, environmental activism is the big cause of the day. Unlike working-class voters and even the unions that represent them and put jobs and the economy as their first concern, they like that their hero Al Gore puts nature and the environment first, and always paints a more deadly picture about the condition of the earth than is warranted by the facts. A prime example of this is the column on Huffington Post by the actor-activist Robert Redford, who praises Obama for “standing up” to Big Oil.

In Redford’s eyes, it’s all about Big Oil lobbyists paying off members of Congress to vote for the folly of an environmentally disastrous pipeline. The actor has not one word about the wide breadth of support for the pipeline, including from the AFL-CIO unions that support Obama on almost everything else. But Redford is precisely the kind of Obama supporter whose votes the administration is courting and that they deem as essential for a 2012 victory at the polls.

So if the unions supported the pipeline, as they did, why are they so silent now that the president has turned against a proposal they backed? The answer is that I suspect a private deal was made last week: The unions would downgrade their disappointment at the veto of Keystone XL, in return for the president unconstitutionally using his powers to override the Constitution and put in pro-labor recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the same  board that tried to penalize Boeing for wanting to move its new facility to South Carolina from the state of Washington.


For the unions, a pro-left-wing NLRB is more important for Big Labor to attain all of its goals even if it hurts the spread of corporations to a more hospitable climate where new jobs would be created. This kind of clout as well as promises to support other labor demands that  Congress might not sanction but which the president would try to implement by executive fiat are more important in their judgment than having the pipeline built at this moment.

And, in the process, Obama would try to energize the left-wing base in Hollywood and the campuses, which care little about the needs of the working-class and the unions, but respond with passion to the clarion calls of Al Gore, Robert Redford, and Laurie David.

So the president makes his move, and leaves the pipeline for the future while instead he makes his stand in an orchestrated speech to be given at Disney World’s “Main Street,” as far away as possible from any real American main street, and where the ghost of Walt Disney is turning over in his grave to learn what his beloved theme park is being used for.

The president, I think, will need a lot more to win next November than pandering to an invited Florida audience at the nation’s number one dream factory after those in Hollywood.

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