Steven ChuSteven Chu.Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.

While the Obama administration is working to restore American innovation, particularly through Secretary Steven Chu’s Department of Energy, the Tea Party movement is increasingly attacking 21st-century jobs on all fronts. Rush Limbaugh is leading the charge against the breakthrough Chevy Volt, Republican governors are killing high-speed rail, Glenn Beck is cooking up conspiracy theories about smart grid technology, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is trying to kill the wind industry, and the entire right-wing movement is convinced green jobs are going to destroy the United States economy.

At a National Press Club speech yesterday, Secretary Chu warned that China is outpacing the United States in innovating clean technology, and pointed to a new report from the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that recommended an integrated federal energy policy to spur domestic progress. “I believe innovation adds to the wealth of society,” he said. “Science and technology are at the heart of innovation.”

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In a blogger conference call following the speech, the Wonk Room asked Chu about the right wing’s opposition to clean technology innovation. Chu derided this desire to turn back the clock, saying that the “United States is still the greatest innovation machine in the world”:

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You know, what can I say? I disagree.

The people who are saying we don’t want to change are holding a view that when a new technology comes along it’s going to displace an old technology. The people whose business depends on old technology might get nervous. They can adapt and innovate or fight the change. That used to work when we weren’t so interconnected. In this new very flat world of multinational corporations, virtually all of western Europe, Japan, Korea, China are saying, “This is our future.” If we don’t go in this direction, we will be importing many of the technologies we could be exporting. I just installed an on-demand water heater and there were no American manufacturers. There were Korean, Japanese, European manufacturers. Kind of scary.

The American people need to be convinced. Or I should say: Does everyone else know something we don’t know or do we know something everyone else doesn’t know?

I believe the right direction is to develop these technologies. The United States is still the greatest innovation machine in the world. There will always be people who don’t want to go in a new direction, but you can’t go back to 1950 when we were exporting oil. We have to press forward. It’s very important to get that message out. This is how we have always achieved. Not by clutching to the past but by seizing the future.

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“We are no longer the leaders in manufacturing, but more startlingly, we are no longer the leaders in high-tech manufacturing,” Chu said in his Press Club speech. However, he saw room for hope. “The good news is that if I look across the country, young people are seeing the energy and climate challenge and going into science and technology.”