Washington Babylon — May 29, 2008, 9:03 am

A Clinton Reader Catches Obama’s Shifting Views on Ethanol

The lavishly-subsidized federal ethanol program is one of the biggest corporate boondoggles of recent times. Eileen O’Connor, a Clinton-supporter based in California, wrote a letter (published below) which charts Obama’s flip-flops on the matter, which look like standard politics-as-usual for a typical Midwestern senator.

I would love to see Senator Obama answer “Six Questions On Corn-Based Ethanol.” By my count, he has changed his position on corn-based ethanol at least four times: from enthusiastically promoting corn-based ethanol as a “No-Brainer” (March 2005) and a way to end “our addiction to foreign oil” (July 2006), to a position that Brazilian sugar-based ethanol is “more efficient” and wind, solar and “clean coal” are also possibilities (March 2008), to a more cautious approach if not a complete reversal, urging a “Need to Rethink” government support for corn-based ethanol early in May 2008 and finally(?) adding “cellulosic ethanol” to the mix later in May 2008.

In March 2005, Obama said boosting corn-based ethanol production was a “no-brainer.” In a July 2006 speech to a Campus Progress rally (as reported in the Harper’s profile), he spent twenty minutes promoting the use of “domestically-produced fuel made from corn” as akin to doing your patriotic duty. http://youtube.com/watch?v=msIpvb8OrhY&feature=related

The Obama Senate website’s point-by-point response to your article includes the following “Fact”:

Senator Obama supports ethanol production because it is a clean, efficient, and domestically produced alternative to oil from the Middle East. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, E85 fuel produces fewer total toxins and lower levels of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds compared to gasoline. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that ethanol production is efficient, creating 1.67 times the energy it takes to produce it. Argonne National Laboratory reports that by switching to ethanol and biomass fuels in our passenger cars and light-duty trucks, drivers can potentially reduce the use of petroleum by at least 68 percent. Blending ethanol with gasoline just at a 10 percent level will translate to savings to consumers of $3.3 billion a year according to independent researchers at LECG (based on 2002 prices).

In May 2006, the Christian Science Monitor published an article that pointed out serious problems with the production of domestic corn-based ethanol, and suggested sugar cane-based fuel from Brazil as an alternative.

In March 2008, Obama agreed, calling corn-based ethanol “transitional,” and jumped on the Brazilian sugar cane bandwagon. On May 4, 2008, he said on “Meet The Press” that it was time to “rethink” corn-based ethanol (on May 6, 2008, 24 Republican Senators, including John McCain, agreed). On May 14, 2008, he parsed his position yet again, calling for support of “cellulosic-based” ethanol.

As recently as April 2008, Senator Obama was still apparently backing a law that would make the manufacture of flex-fuel autos mandatory even though the environmental benefits of “blending” ethanol with gasoline has not been established and many environmentalists think cellulosic-based ethanol is one of the worst ideas on the planet (I don’t know, but I don’t think any of this is a “no-brainer”).

If Obama is so smart, how could he have been so wrong about corn-based ethanol? Could it have been political expediency? Just going along to get along? Saying what he thought people wanted to hear? Corn-producers in his state? Archer Daniels Midland? Winning in Iowa? I cannot help but wonder what his “no-brainer” trust will tell him to say next about ethanol.

I am supporting Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I am a middle-aged white woman so maybe it goes without saying. I should probably also add that I am not a “Republican troll” though I was a Legislative Assistant to a Republican Congressman for a minute way back in the 1980′s (ancient history), one of several Democrats on his staff. I am wary of the love-affair between the media and Obama. I do think Obama is a little quick to call complicated issues (such as our dependence on oil) simple. And I wonder how much of a “change from the old politics” his campaign really represents.

Eileen O’Connor

Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today