28 April 2009

EPA's Jackson Fumbles Free Enterprise Answer

Somebody get Lisa Jackson a cheat sheet. She did a fine job in her interview on NPR today, until Michele Norris asked about the role of government.

In a discussion about strategies to regulate greenhouse gases from cars (starts at the 2:42 mark on the interview), and about how to tie such regulations to economic viability, Jackson stated that "the president has said, and I couldn't agree more, that what this country needs is one single national road map that tells automakers, who are trying to become solvent again, what kind of car it is they need to be designing and building for the American people."

Whereupon NPR's Norris astutely asked: "Is that the role of the government, though? That doesn't sound like free enterprise."

"Well . . . it-it [exhale] . . . it is free enterprise in a way. Um, uh, y'know . . . first and foremost the free enterprise system has us where we are right this second, and so some would argue that the government has a much larger role than we might have when Henry Ford rolled the first cars off the assembly line."

Jackson went on to invoke the future of the auto industry and larger discussions that the president, Congress, and the EPA are having and will continue to have. So she saved herself, sort of. But I could hear Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly breathing heavily behind the tape as they get ready to tear into the clip in coming days.

Granted, I don't expect the head of the EPA to be an economic policy wonk. But I do expect her to capably field straightforward and predictable questions regarding the oft-thorny relationship between government regulation and free enterprise, especially when her own argument suggests that greenhouse gas regulation is good economic policy. In this interview, Jackson mentions the president and, for all practical purposes, speaks for the president. The only way to sell "big" government is to make sure policies work and to have your talking points in order and your bases covered. The easy way out would have been to tie government regulation to the government funds those troubled car companies are taking and to evoke a partnership toward progress in which free enterprise, frankly, becomes an afterthought.