The story of Solyndra is by now a familiar tale: President Obama ignored multiple warnings and wasted half a billion taxpayer dollars on a failing solar-energy company backed by his political allies.
But the saga represents something much larger than Solyndra. It is a window into the worldview of an administration lacking in leadership and defined by an abysmal record.
It offers three lessons — each important for the coming election.
Lesson 1: Obama disrespects taxpayer money
Solyndra went under in August 2011, laying off 1,100 workers, but Obama’s Energy Department knew they were on the path to bankruptcy as early as August 2009, when a department staffer concluded the company would run out of money in 2011.
Economic adviser Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned the president that the loan-guarantee program’s selection process wasn’t rigorous enough, and staff in the Office of Management and Budget wanted Solyndra’s loan guarantee “postponed” to allow for “full review” to “make sure we get it right.”
But the warnings were not heeded.
Then, in February 2011, the Department of Energy restructured the Solyndra loan to “waive its privilege as first creditor in the event of a bankruptcy.” In other words, if Solyndra went under, taxpayers would be the last to get paid back. Who would be first? An Obama bundler.
A president owes it to the American people to be a reliable steward of taxpayers’ money. With Solyndra and other stimulus-funded pet projects, President Obama wasted billions and put his interests ahead of taxpayers’ — not the mark of responsible fiscal stewardship.
Lesson 2: Obama embraces crony capitalism
By mid-September 2011, the Energy Department loan program had awarded a total of $20.5 billion. $16.4 billion went to companies “either run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers,” according to Newsweek.
George Kaiser, a major Solyndra backer, had bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign. Between March 2009 and April 2011, he made 16 visits to the White House.
Steve Spinner, who raised at least $500,000 for Obama in ’08 and whose wife’s law firm represented Solyndra, was put in charge of the Energy Department loan program. Despite recusing himself from the Solyndra decision, he “pushed and prodded career Department of Energy officials to move faster in approving a loan guarantee for Solyndra,” according to ABC News.
They helped Obama win the White House. Then, it seems, they helped themselves to a little White House favoritism.
And here we thought Obama wanted to “fundamentally change how Washington works.”
Lesson 3: Obama misunderstands the free market
“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” declared President Obama on his May 26, 2010, tour of Solyndra’s California headquarters.
If the president truly believes Solyndra is the “engine of economic growth,” it’s no surprise the economy remains stuck in neutral.
Failing companies propped up by a careless administration in a politically motivated attempt at top-down job creation will never be the driving force of the American economy. But President Obama does not seem to appreciate that.
Free enterprise, that renewable resource that requires no government handout, is the true engine of job creation. It is also the target of Obama’s latest political attacks.
In a desperate attempt to distract from his own record, President Obama has distorted and attacked Governor Romney’s undeniably successful record in the private sector. In so doing, he has further revealed his hostility toward the private sector — hostility borne of inexperience. For while Governor Romney has a career’s worth of private-sector experience, President Obama does not have a day’s worth.
After 39 months of unemployment above 8 percent, his inexperience is showing. And it continues to take a serious toll.
So, finally, a question: How can America trust the president who created the Solyndra mess in his first term to create jobs in his second?
— Reince Priebus is chairman of the Republican National Committee.