Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
NEWS ANALYSIS: Obama Connects the Dots: from bin Laden to Hybrid Transmissions
Friday, May 06, 2011 - 12:31 PM
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) If anyone doesn't quite see the links between international terrorism and more fuel-efficient transportation, the President is making it for them. He caps the week that begin Sunday night with a dramatic White House announcement that Osama bin Laden had been found and shot dead -- at a hybrid transmission plan in Indiana (streaming here, full text here).
Now, if you were a fan of the West Wing tv show, as I was, you know a President's day can have all kinds of randomly juxtaposed events (school children perform at the White House, Secretary of State comes by for a meeting, there's a dinner with broccoli producers), mostly a function of scheduling.
But in a week where the White House is obviously paying close attention to optics -- from the purposeful stride down to the podium in the East Wing Sunday night to a somber wreath-laying at Ground Zero to a photograph of the buzz-cut 10-year old Christopher Cannizzaro of Staten Island, N.Y, whose firefighter father died on 9/11, that looks like it walked right off a Norman Rockwell print -- it's hard to just chalk up the Indy visit as random.
As the pool report just put it, "on our way to Allison transmission, we came across a gas station displaying $4.17 a gallon. Another down the road advertised $4.14.
A few dozen gawkers dotted the streets, some of them waving US flags and others signs "I stand with planned parenthood". Factory in sight at 11:40.
"Pool ushered into a huge hangar in which Allison builds transmissions for medium duty military personnel carriers, buses or motor homes. POTUS, sans jacket, his sleeves rolled up and wearing mandatory safety glasses, first stopped at a station where Allison is installing the clutch in the housing of their new hybrid transmission.
"Operators demonstrated the assembly before POTUS and the plant manager Mike Clements. "Didn't break a sweat!", joked POTUS. "Really proud of you, keep it up", he said.
Clements and POTUS were then guided to two other assembly stations by "group leader" Richard Thomas, sporting a red UAW "local 933" tee-shirt. Demonstrations of heavy equipment, during which POTUS looked focused and nodded several times, were over at 12:04 PM.
"Ongoing POTUS remarks at Allison transmision are open press. They're taking place against the backdrop of stacked gearboxes, under a sign "Allison Hybrid".
"On POTUS's right hand side, presumably out of the video camera frames, were a medium size rig and a city bus, both with an Allison Hybrid logo."
Allison Transmissions, as Heather Zeichel, deputy assistant to the President for energy and climate policy explained in a conference call with reporters Thursday, "is the world’s largest manufacturer of fully automatic transmissions for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles, tactical military vehicles and hybrid propulsion systems. The company's hybrid propulsion systems for buses are used across the country and saved more than 17 million gallons of diesel fuel."
Now gas prices are obviously on everyone's minds, not least at the White House, which is trying to keep any post-bin Laden operation sense of unity from dissipating. And the White House clearly wants to make sure people don't just quickly sour again the next time they fill up their gas tanks.
"This is a great success story," Zeichel said of Allison Transmissions, which received a stimulus grant for green energy jobs. "It’s an example of how when companies make the smart investments in energy efficient technologies we strengthen our economy and reduce our dependence on oil."
"Efficient technology," "green jobs" and "reducing dependence on oil" are clearly at near the top of Democrats' talking points right now. But the President has been making an interesting argument on energy all spring, one with somewhat more of a sustained and pointed direction than he's made, for example, on health care, when he offered to let Congress fill in the blanks. More fuel-efficient cars aren't just good for the environment, he's arguing, they create jobs and make our economy less sensitive to fluctuations in oil prices caused by mid-east instability.
In 1992, Bill Clinton won the election with the staff mantra "It's the economy, stupid." In 2004, George W. Bush run essentially, as one Long Island 9/11-widow once put it to me because "he's kept us safe." This week, not long after Obama formally launched his 2012 campaign, he's linking the two arguments.