‘The Natural’ has apparently become the president’s chief economic adviser

Meet Robert Redford —1970’s Golden Boy and beef-cake. Actor. Heart-throb. Hollywood liberal. Environmental activist.

And always, The Natural.

To that list of Redford’s old descriptors, now we can add something a little fresher: Senior Domestic Policy Adviser to President Barack Obama.

Gone are the days when Democratic presidents of the United States would turn to rigorous (if left-leaning) thinkers to help guide fundamental decisions about the course of the nation’s economy.

Gone are the days when the adults were in charge of the American economy.

Bill Clinton’s economic guru was Robert Rubin. A Goldman-Sachs godfather and overlord of high finance, as Treasury secretary, Rubin teamed with Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers early in Clinton’s presidency to stem a foreign financial crisis that threatened America’s own incipient economic recovery. He was a key author of Clinton’s centrist economic program, a policy that frequently conciliated with congressional Republicans on critical fiscal and domestic policy matters.

Two generations before, FDR relied on the economic council of a man named Harry Hopkins. In the ideological sense, Hopkins wasn’t cut from the same cloth as Robert Rubin. Hopkins approached the economy with a greater interventionist bent — perhaps a function of his own liberal instincts, perhaps a reflection of FDR’s own governing vision, perhaps just a reaction to the Great Depression, which made draconian government action seem the only course. Whatever the case, Hopkins was the antithesis of Hollywood flim-flam.

But in this White House, the adults in our Democracy seem to have no place. Gone are the titans, replaced by the progressive charlatans. Is it any wonder the economy is in the dumps?

Witness the decisive role that Robert Redford played in one of the most important economic decisions made by the president this year.

Redford, attentive cable news viewers will know, was the chief architect of a campaign to defeat the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion project that would have brought hundreds of millions of barrels of oil from Canada and North Dakota to American refineries and gas stations. Keystone would have been a giant step forward for American jobs; one giant leap for America’s energy security.

As the Wall Street Journal said: “The pipeline would mean at least 20,000 new construction jobs. It would provide lower cost and reliable shipping opportunities for surging North Dakota oil production. Shipping petroleum from Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico means refiners there would gain a ready replacement for declining supplies of Mexican and Venezuelan crude. Most importantly, it would reinforce expectations that massive and long-term North American infrastructure investments could proceed free of political risk.”

But none of this mattered to Redford. When Obama intimated that he might allow the project to move forward earlier this year, Redford threw a geriatric temper tantrum, going so far as to say that — gasp! — he might not even vote for President Hope next November. Abetted by the big bucks of the National Resources Defense Council, Redford screamed with all of the intelligent indignation of your crazy uncle after three bottles of wine, mobilizing all of the many moneyed forces of the American left to oppose the Keystone project. (Well, not all of them. A number of unions, who do need workers to collect union dues, joined business leaders, energy companies and most Americans in supporting the Keystone pipeline.)

In the end, it was the voice of Robert Redford that prevailed. Obama being Obama, he didn’t actually decide to full-on oppose the pipeline. He said instead that further study was needed before he could make a final call on Keystone, sometime after the election next November.

Redford, though, clearly viewed Obama’s decision for indecision as victory. “This is American democracy at its best: a president who listens to the voice of the people and shows the courage to do what’s right for the country,” he said.

American job creators, of course, saw it differently. And so did our neighbors to the north. A newspaper in Canada put it this way:

“U.S. President Barack Obama, who campaigned to ‘free America from the tyranny of oil,’ has bowed to pressure and put the project on ice until next year’s elections are safely past. The State Department suddenly saw fit to ‘review’ a project to which it had given the green light months ago.”

Gone, indeed, are the days of the giants making the big calls and the important choices about the course of the American economy. Clinton had Robert Rubin. Roosevelt had Harry Hopkins. And Barack Obama has Robert Redford.

And some wonder why America is in decline?

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate minoirty leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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