Well, I managed to wade through Hillary’s whole speech to the Cleantech Venture Forum, and let’s just say … she’s no Barack.

The vast bulk is a fairly tepid summary of current conventional wisdom: energy crisis, get free from foreign oil (grr), promote clean energy and clean cars and energy efficiency, etc. This is all boilerplate stuff, but it’s worth celebrating, I suppose, that it is conventional wisdom now. As much as environmentalists lament their own failures, it’s pretty remarkable how quickly the green line on energy has taken over and become centrist — and believe me, despite her reputation in wingnut circles, Hillary wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t safe and centrist.

Unfortunately, the conventional centrist wisdom is not translating into action, as illustrated by Hillary’s attempt to list her accomplishments on these issues. This is typical:

Quite a few of us in Congress have worked to bridge the gap and put forward proposals for a better energy future. We passed, albeit not as much as we would have wanted, a 10 percent renewable energy standard in the Senate, but the White House rejected it.

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The one new, "bigger and bolder" (her words) idea is the " Strategic Energy Fund." The SEF would be funded through a tax "alternative energy development fee" on oil companies. This tripped me up:

We should design the fee so it is taken solely out of unanticipated profits from the sky high oil prices and ensure that it is not passed on to consumers. It could generate as much as $20 billion a year to help retool our economy and deploy new energy strategies.

So … we shouldn’t take any of their anticipated profits? And how exactly, apart from price controls I assume nobody supports, can we prevent oil companies from passing this tax fee along to consumers? Dunno. Also: it "could" generate as much as $20 billion? Hillary, you made the thing up. It "could" do whatever you want it to, up to and including nationalizing the oil industry.

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The money from the fund would be directed to two things: relief for folks facing high home-heating costs this winter, and research into clean energy.

The tax fee would be temporary, just around long enough, presumably, for oil prices to fall and/or chilly Northeasterners to warm up and/or clean-energy to get up and running.

I don’t mean to mock the idea. It’s a fine attempt to get past entrenched debates and propose something new — or at least something that sounds new. It’s just frustrating to me, the air of unreality that surrounds this country’s political dialogue. I mean, why does Hillary have to think of some creative tax — along with a creative way to avoid using the word "tax" — to raise money for obviously worthwhile public expenditures? Why can’t we just roll back — or refuse to extend — some of the billions and billions of tax cuts for the rich implemented over the last few years? If we want to cushion poor people against high heating costs this winter, why don’t we just do it? If we want more research into clean energy, why don’t we just do it? We have a general fund for these kinds of things, namely the federal budget. No super-special Strategic fund needed.

Basically, all the particulars — demonizing the oil companies, accusing them of "price gouging," creating a specialized fund through a "fee," etc. — strike me as an elaborate kabuki dance to achieve goals we could achieve more directly by simply taxing people at a reasonable rate and spending the money on what we agree is the public good. But that would be a sane country, in which politicians were allowed to say sane things. Sigh.