Of Pledges, Promises, and Pie-Crusts

“Elections have consequences,” President Obama liked to say to journalists and political opponents when they objected to some of the policies he pursued as president. It’s a fair point, especially when a  presidential candidate has promised to introduce those policies in the party platform or campaign speeches.  It’s even got some force when he introduces policies that were never mentioned in the campaign but that can be plausibly presented as necessary responses to crises that no one foresaw earlier.

Governments are elected to cope with emergencies. It’s part of the job, and they need the flexibility to do so. But what about those policies that a political leader explicitly denied he would pursue if elected? A president can’t justify those policies by saying that elections have consequences if the policies are exactly the reverse of the what the electorate chose on election day when they voted for him. He has zero democratic justification for them. And if he wants to pursue them anyway, he owes the voters (and his defeated opponent) the courtesy of an explanation and apology.

That doesn’t happen very often, of course, but it should happen whenever election pledges are unceremoniously broken. Crude reversals of policies that were promised in the campaign undermine the unwritten contract between the voters and elected officials that votes are exchanged for pledges. It’s totalitarians who treat promises with contempt—for instance Lenin who famously remarked “Promises are like pie-crusts, made to be broken.” Democratic leaders are supposed to mean them and to abide by them.

Failing to meet this  obligation can sometimes get a political leader into serious electoral trouble. Britain’s 1960s-1970s Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, got a bad reputation for infidelity to the electorate when he said of a particular manifesto commitment: “This is no lightly-given promise. It is a solemn pledge.” An opposition back-bencher, tongue firmly In cheek, asked him at Question Time if he could list for the voters which of his commitments were solemn pledges and which were lightly-given promises. Collapse of stout Prime Minister.

Which lie should I tell?

Which brings us to President Biden’s election pledge not to ban fracking—a method of extracting natural gas from deep underground by injecting water into rocks (my very non-technical definition.) That was an important pledge economically and politically. Economically, the so-called “fracking revolution” had made the U.S. energy-independent after decades of being held to ransom in foreign policy by Middle East and other foreign energy producers.

It had reduced American carbon emission levels more than any other major industrial power had done. It had made possible the switch from “dirty” coal to “clean” natural gas (hence the reduced carbon emissions.) And it had powered the massive recovery of the U.S. economy, delivering the highest rise in wages and salaries for poor and minority Americans for decades.

Politically, it was a potentially election-winning issue for President Trump in states such as Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Texas which had millions of workers to whom the fracking boom had given high levels of prosperity and a sense that America was back.

All in all it was a tricky issue for the Democrats and for candidate Joe Biden, in particular because his party’s powerful radical Left wing was strongly opposed to fossil fuels in general and to fracking in particular. As a result, Biden in the primaries gave the impression that he was opposed to fracking while in the general election he claimed to be in favor of it.

Thus, in a July 2019 exchange, CNN’s Dana Bash asked the former  Vice-President if there would be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration. To which Biden responded boldly: “No, we would . . . we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either . . .  any fossil fuels.”  Less boldly his campaign staff told the media that Biden meant that he intended to eliminate not fracking but government subsidies to oil and gas.

We can work it out.

Similarly, as the campaign got going, Biden said in a March 2020 debate with Bernie Sanders that he was against “new fracking” and afterwards his campaign again told the media that this referred to a ban on oil and gas permits on public. No promise to ban fracking here, folks, move along please.

Once the general election campaign arrived, however, the strategy dictated that Biden should now assure the voters, especially those in Pennsylvania, that he was a supporter of fracking and always had been. Biden did not make this claim personally, but because his campaign wanted to keep him out of the public view except when he could issue some soothing bromide to pacify the voters, the burden of presenting this case fell to his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.

Though she had herself been a passionate fracking opponent, Harris had no difficulty in stating this argument in the most unqualified terms. “The American people know Joe Biden will not ban fracking,” she told Mike Pence in the October 7 vice-presidential debate. “That is a fact. That is a fact.”

It was not “a fact,” of course. And given how much calculation and choreography of lying went into the presentation of Biden’s positions on fracking in the two years of the campaign, it wasn’t exactly a lightly given promise either. It was a calculated attempt to confuse and deceive the American voter of an elaborate kind -- and therefore a lie.

Because of its obvious contradictions, it could hardly have succeeded in its deceptions as it did—see the Pennsylvania voting—if it had been critically examined by the media. The media participated in this deception, however, not only by not examining Biden’s policies critically but in a series of absurd "fact-checks" by actually protecting its contradictions. I am obliged to my National Review colleague, David Harsanyi, for neatly demolishing one attempt:

In a Forbes article, “Did Biden Break Campaign Promise On Fracking? No—And Here’s Why,” Rachel Sandler makes the acutely irrelevant observation that “the president does not even have the power to ban fracking nationally.” Biden, you see, is only banning the fracking he can ban. Which is tantamount to arguing that Donald Trump never supported a wall on the southern border because he didn’t have the power to unilaterally build it.

In his first few days in office, we now know, Biden set out to ban the kind of fracking he could ban. That was always going to happen because his larger promises to eliminate oil and gas in the U.S. economy “over time, over time” and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 inevitably meant the end of fracking—and over a fairly short time period to boot.

And when the political costs of enforcing a lower standard of living on the American people through higher taxes, higher energy prices, and lowered competitiveness against a rising China bring on an electoral whirlwind, Biden or his successor will suffer all the odium of having made promises to the voters that, like pie-crusts, were made to be broken.

Apparatchik John Kerry, Climate Czar

Suppose you are a man with a long history of personal mediocrity in important positions. You aren’t quite as publicly toxic as, say, Hillary Clinton. But no one really respects you either. You’re old, 76. You’re definitely a “me too” lothario. You have said nothing notable in 35 years in the public eye, first as a U.S. Senator, then failed presidential candidate, and finally Secretary of State.

Your biggest success was in being the face of Obama’s Iran deal, the entire premise of which was to set up an untrustworthy, fundamentalist regime hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, and deeply hated by its own people, as a dominant regional power.

So which job do you get in a Joe Biden Administration?

Somewhere a Soviet architect weeps: the DoE.

Climate Czar!  Nice touch, that "Czar." Commissar would have been a bit heavy handed. Who knows what the Mandarin translation is.

Actually, John Kerry’s official new title is “Special Presidential Envoy for Climate,” and he will report directly to apparent president-elect Biden. The post is housed within the National Security Council, because, apparently, climate is a now national security issue, which is not quite the same thing as a matter of science, or even weather (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, anybody?).

Official Washington is gleeful at the appointment. A typical Washington Post headline joyfully trumpeted, “Biden Brings Back the Establishment.”  It is deeply ironic that Kerry, who first came to prominence as a decorated Vietnam war veteran leveling allegations of war crimes against fellow soldiers, is now ‘the Establishment.”

In addition to the Iran deal, from which President Trump withdrew the U.S. early on because Iran’s compliance was unverifiable, Kerry also oversaw negotiations for the multilateral Paris climate Accords, from which President Trump also withdrew the U.S. Trump’s blunt contention was that, since the Paris accords failed to hold China responsible for the pollution it generates, which comprises the largest share of global pollution leading to warming and environmental destruction, and since the U.S. generally outperforms the standards the accord require in terms of emissions and carbon use, there was precisely no point in being party to, or bound by, its strictures.

The Paris accords, Trump claimed, harmed U.S. energy and manufacturing jobs, and were simply another way of transferring money to China, while absolving that nation of responsibility. Both Biden and Kerry, whose sons have been partners in some of their financial ventures, have ties to China that may render that consideration moot.

Didn't end well for this czar.

Not only did Biden campaign on an immediate return to the Paris accords, but he  has repeatedly placed “climate change” at the top of his “Day One” agenda for action, second only to Covid-19. Indeed, Biden has been eager to persuade other nations to adopt even higher standards. He has mentioned “zero carbon emissions” by 2030, and 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, which even some lefties privately agree is unrealistic.

How, precisely, climate change affects American national security is undefined. In a statement released on Monday the transition team remained committed to vagueness, noting that Kerry, “will fight climate change full-time as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.”  “This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue.” Kerry himself tweeted:

As a political matter, it is worth considering the possibility that Kerry is there to rein in staffers who are far more radical than he or Biden. According to the Washington Post, the Biden administration has a plan to spend upwards of “$2 trillion over four years to boost renewables and create incentives for energy-efficient cars, homes, and commercial buildings.”

Environmentalist contrarian Michael Shellenberger noted on Nov. 24, on the Tucker Carlson show that all of this adds up to nothing more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. That plan was explicitly formulated by the “Justice Democrats” as a way to take over the economy. According to Shellenberger, “we are way past the point of stopping climate change. If we gave up all carbon use, temperatures would rise for the next 400 years, anyway. But we are doing a fine job adapting."

Biden has framed his climate plan as a jobs program, making clear that he is prepared to pour unprecedented resources into transitioning the United States away from fossil fuels as part of the effort to boost an economy battered by the pandemic.

And "climate change" is now a matter of social justice. The Washington Post reported that the Biden plan includes a commitment to invest 40 percent of the clean energy money in historically disadvantaged communities, on the flimsy justification that there is some connection between climate change and systemic racism. A local California politician called it “the most innovative and bold plan in a presidential campaign that we’ve seen from an environmental justice standpoint.”

Detroit: blame racism and climate change.

Biden’s team already has plans on how it will restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters; ratchet up federal mileage standards for cars and SUVs; block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country; provide federal incentives to develop renewable power; and mobilize other nations to make deeper cuts in their own carbon emissions.

Remember that second debate between Trump and Biden, in which Biden denied that he would end fracking, or destroy the oil and natural gas industries, with their millions of jobs, in the U.S.? That was not true. Look for steeply rising gas prices early in a Biden Administration, something it might take the populace some time to notice, due to state mandated lockdown orders.

It is clear that when Biden warned the nation, in the first debate, that we were heading into a "dark winter," that was a promise, not just a threat. He and Czar Kerry will ensure it happens with higher energy costs that will keep us in the dark and shivering far into the winters of the future as well.

The Suburbs Are Safe -- for Now

The Trump Administration has  announced that it's repealed the radical Obama-era institution of the so-called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) policy, after receiving thousands of complaints from around the country that the plan would radically change the nature of America's suburbs. "The suburb destruction will end with us,” President Trump stated.

This long expected and overdue repeal will allow the president to use the inflammatory issue of keeping federal control and divisive mandates out of and away from the nation's suburbs in his campaign. The issue is critical for appealing to suburban voters who constitute a majority of Americans, and who oppose nationalizing housing policy by Washington, D.C.

This move comes on the heels of the announcement by the Democratic presidential campaign of Joe Biden (“Obama 3”), that, if elected, he would aggressively implement AFFH, to force middle and upper middle class suburban communities to house, educate, and subsidize the poor.

The now-repealed 2015 Obama iteration of AFFH claimed that the federal government could use HUD’s community block grants to force suburbs to provide high density, low income, and Section 8 housing despite local zoning laws. That is, it gutted the right of communities to determine their own zoning policies, and thereby threatened to destroy the nature and property values of thousands of suburbs across the country. This policy rests on a radical departure in the definition of "fair housing." Prior to the Obama Administration, the term had always meant "no housing discrimination based on race or creed." 

The stated intent of the original 1968 Fair Housing Act was to defeat de facto segregation, by opening up the nation’s housing supply to anyone who could afford property. Obama’s radical socialist HUD Secretary, Julian Castro, chose to redefine "fair' to include economic status, and to compel local authorities to change zoning laws to force communities that typically lack public transportation, infrastructure, needed academic programs in schools, and even suitable jobs, to provide those things, along with the higher density Section 8 housing -- as if not having all of the above was a sign of active racial and economic discrimination.

The Trump Administration, which has been aggressive about removing unhelpful regulations from the books, noted that the Democrats' implementation of AFFH would have imposed a massive regulatory burden on localities, required high density zoning, eliminated single family zoning, and destroyed our suburbs.

The White House pointed out that the majority of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans now live in suburban communities, where they, like so many other Americans, are able to afford homes, achieving one important part of the American dream. And that home ownership “offers the chance for all Americans to build wealth for their families.”

The point about home ownership being a basis for building wealth is an important rejoinder to the critique of those who believe in "structural racism” that African Americans are somehow denied the ability to create inter-generational wealth. To be sure, that requires both actual ownership and a stable community, in which the value of property appreciates over time. Introducing mandatory Section 8 housing has generally reduced the value of adjacent properties while also raising the rates of crime that many homeowners fled the cities to escape in the first place.

As for the Obama-era regulatory interpretation, HUD noted that:

This approach is not required by applicable statutes, which give HUD considerable discretion in determining what “affirmatively furthering fair housing” means, and it is also at odds with both federalism principles and specific statutes protecting local control over housing policy. For example, Congress specifically barred HUD from using funding to force grantees to change any public policy, regulation, or law.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson said,

After reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most. Instead, the Trump Administration has established programs like Opportunity Zones that are driving billions of dollars of capital into underserved communities where affordable housing exists, but opportunity does not. Programs like this …. allow communities to focus more of their time working with Opportunity Zone partners to revitalize their communities so upward mobility, improved housing, and home ownership is within reach for more people. Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community’s unique needs.

Because this is all a matter of regulation, not law, it would be entirely possible for a Biden Administration to revive the Obama interpretation, and return to actively urbanizing and, consequently, destroying the suburbs. That is what they have promised to do in their statements on housing policy. As we approach November, that fact should be and widely publicized by the administration -- widely understood by American voters.

Saudis, OPEC Emerge as Losers from New Oil Deal

The oil-price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia has at least temporarily come to an end.

Saudi Arabia, Russia and the U.S. agreed to lead a multinational coalition in major oil-production cuts after a drop in demand due to the coronavirus crisis and a Saudi-Russian feud devastated oil prices. The deal, sealed Sunday, came after President Trump intervened to help resolve a Saudi-Mexico standoff that jeopardized the broader pact.

As part of the agreement, 23 countries committed to withhold collectively 9.7 million barrels a day of oil from global markets. The deal, designed to address a mounting oil glut resulting from the pandemic’s erosion of demand, seeks to withhold a record amount of crude from markets—over 13% of world production. The U.S. has never been so active in forging a pact like this.

Mr. Trump, on Twitter, said the deal will “save hundreds of thousands of energy jobs in the United States,” and he thanked the Russian and Saudi Arabian leaders for their cooperation.

Trump will get no credit for this, of course, but he also had no choice but to intervene. The rebirth of the American oil industry has been a cornerstone of the formerly booming economy under this president, and a vivid reproach to his predecessor's gleeful defeatism.

The Left, however, has seen the price war as (curiously) a good thing, hoping it will cause the collapse of the energy industry and thus allow them to continue to peddle their "green" snake oil. The stabilization of prices is meant to tightrope-walk the line between cheap gasoline and the maintenance of jobs in the oil fields of North America; under the terms of the deal, the U.S. will maintain production at current levels. With the Wuhan virus currently keeping the western world confined to quarters, demand for oil has fallen precipitously, but should Europe, Canada, and the U.S. return to normal soon, the summer driving season could be a record-breaker.

The deal is slated to take effect on May 1. What effect the deal will have on prices remains to be seen:

After a week-long marathon of bilateral calls and video conferences of ministers from the OPEC+ alliance and the Group of 20 nations, an agreement finally emerged to tackle the impact of the pandemic on oil demand. Prices rose about 1% to around $32 a barrel in London after swinging wildly in the first few minutes of trading following the deal. The focus now shifts to whether the cut will be enough to dent the massive glut that keeps growing as the virus shuts down the global economy.

The talks had almost fallen apart late last week -- amid resistance from Mexico -- but came back from the brink after a weekend of urgent diplomacy. President Donald Trump intervened, helping broker the final compromise. “Unprecedented measures for unprecedented times,”said Ed Morse, a veteran oil watcher who is head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc. “Unprecedented in historical discussions of production cuts, the U.S. played a critical role in brokering between Saudi Arabia and Russia for the new OPEC+ accord.”

OPEC+ will cut 9.7 million barrels a day -- just below the initial proposal of 10 million.

“OPEC+ started the fire, and it was their responsibility to put it out,” Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta, Canada’s biggest oil-producing province, said in a Twitter post. “Many challenging months ahead with very low demand and huge inventories, but at least now there is path to recovery.”

In the long run, breaking OPEC will continue to be a key tenet of American foreign policy, but thanks to the boom of the past three years, the Arabs and their allies can longer hold the industrialized world hostage with their monopolistic control of the oil fields. Already, the Mexicans are beginning to edge toward the exit. Another geopolitical upside has been the souring of the Russian-Saudi alliance, as the price war drove a wedge between Vladimir Putin (who relies on strong oil prices to keep his country, and his regime, afloat) and the Saudi ruling family.

Since 2016, oil has constituted the core of the deepening Saudi–Russia relations. Riyadh and Moscow have been coordinating under the umbrella of OPEC+ to stabilize the oil market and keep the oil prices at beneficial levels. In December 2019, the Saudi oil minister envisioned that OPEC’s deal to curb oil production with non-OPEC allies, including Russia, would stand the test of time, and remain steadfast “until death do us apart”. Three months later, Riyadh and Moscow waged an oil war against each other resulting in the sharpest drop in oil prices in around two decades.

The impact of the oil war on Saudi foreign policy is obvious. Feeling the pain of the low oil prices and the high costs of their regional adventures, the Saudis seem to be constrained now more than ever. Their priorities are shifting, and because of the pandemic and the oil war, they need to inject a lot of money in the domestic arena. Last week, Riyadh decided to announce a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen.

Who says there's never any good news?