Politics & Policy


Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar panels, is bankrupt, which is inconvenient for the Obama administration, which extended half a billion dollars’ worth of loan guarantees to the firm as part of the president’s stimulus effort. The inconvenience extends to the 1,100 Solyndra employees who have just lost their jobs and to the U.S. taxpayers who may be on the hook for the bankrupt firm’s loans. The project was indeed “shovel ready,” as the president likes to put it; unhappily, in this case, the shovel belongs to the gravedigger. Perhaps the gravestone could read: “Another project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

#ad#Solyndra was an irrestibly juicy piece of bait for stimulus-happy progressives. President Obama, like all Democrats, labors under a special challenge when it comes to economic affairs: His economically illiterate base spends its time decrying “corporations,” but urban-gardening cooperatives don’t create a lot of jobs, and community-based nonprofits by definition don’t create any profit, and therefore no investment capital, and therefore no economic growth. You want to see some real, sustainable, long-term jobs created, your best bet is to look to a “corporation”—“corporation” simply being the word for a business that has grown large enough or profitable enough to require the legal organization of its affairs. But if you’re Barack Obama, not just any corporation will do: It has to be just the right sort of corporation.

And boy, was Solyndra just right: It made solar panels, a product so green that Democrats could almost forget that this was a profit-oriented corporation, backed by venture capitalists, oil money, and private-equity funds, and led by a former Intel executive. The firm was in Nancy Pelosi’s back yard, and it was looking to expand, with plans to build a factory for the mass production of its photovoltaic cells. But the firm was not thriving, and those venture capitalists were not eager to put their own money on the line for that new facility. So they put your money on the line, instead.

The Government Accountability Office would later single out the Solyndra deal as an example of the government’s failing to fully vet such arrangements before approving the loan guarantees. With all those stimulus dollars burning a hole in its pocket, the Obama administration was overeager to get them spent. “If you don’t have really strong processes in place, and if you’re under pressure to get a lot of these dollars allocated, you can make unproductive decisions and ones that ultimately put taxpayers’ dollars at risk,” GAO analyst Franklin Rusco said. In fact, the administration announced its commitment to the loan guarantees before the required outside reviews were even in hand.

And as those who have followed the machinations of T. Boone Pickens know, when there’s a green-energy plan looking for a federal backstop, there’s an Oklahoma oil man behind the curtain. In the case of Solyndra it was billionaire George Kaiser, a Democratic donation bundler and a major financial supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Mr. Kaiser was heavily invested in the firm. Other Democratic bundlers received similarly generous treatment under the guise of green jobs, stimulus, and other expressions of President Obama’s magical thinking. It’s easy to spend several hundred billion dollars of somebody else’s money in a hurry; it’s hard to spend it well or wisely.

So, the indictment reads: wasteful, inefficient, non-transparent, irregular, unseemly, and, finally, bankrupt. The thousands of jobs the Solyndra project was supposed to create have not appeared, and more than a thousand jobs have just disappeared. The president is planning a big speech about jobs, and perhaps he’s had enough law-school Latin to know what mea culpa means.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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