Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Here comes the sun

The Obamas are planning to install solar panels on the roof of the White House to serve some of the mansion's electrical needs. Great. This means we've finally returned to the level of common sense we last experienced over thirty years ago, right?

On some levels, yes. Ronald Reagan memorably removed a set of solar panels installed by Jimmy Carter back in 1986, one of many symbolic gestures marking the end of an age of limits for the United States. It was morning in America, folks, and all that sun needed to do was warm our happy American faces as we rolled off down the highway in our petroleum-based vehicles.

However, here's an interesting link -- turns out George W. Bush installed electricity-generating solar panels on the White House grounds, too. As the article points out, Republicans' failure to trumpet this fact may pertain to the propaganda value of associating Obama with the disaster-prone Carter era. It's a sad commentary on our society, however, that solar panels on the White House could be seen as anything but good. What happened to the virtues of independence and self-sufficiency that have been so integral (however ill-practiced in reality) to the history of the United States? The very same virtues that conservative politicians trumpet?

We need a comprehensive return to independence and self-sufficiency in the realm of energy policy, not because we have to "go it alone" in this world -- friends are a good thing, and we would do well to cultivate them more assiduously -- but because it is the morally responsible legacy to leave to our children. American history is littered with the darker implications of seemingly positive attributes. "Independence" and "self-sufficiency" nearly destroyed the Native peoples of North America, to give just one example, but if we can learn from such tragedies, we needn't let them color the meaning such terms could have for the future.

It would do politicians on both ends of the spectrum good to acknowledge the contributions -- and the shortcomings -- of their forebears. Fighting past battles does nothing but poison the possibilities for the future.

Independence and self-sufficiency must be reclaimed, and this time, without the hypocrisy that has colored so much of our past. If a few solar panels on the roof of a certain big white building start us on our way, good. If we can summon the maturity to build upon the legacies of both Bush II and Obama in this regard, so much the better.

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