The American Horizon: Barack Obama, A Candidate for Change (Still) – Part 2: The Cream of the Crop?

Dillon Zhou

The saga of the American Presidency often takes a more positive view of Commanders-in-Chief who are leaders of men than those who are writers of tomes. Edwin H. Friedman, the far-famed family therapist, once remarked that, “leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future.”Our current President’s handpicked cabinet and other top administration officials will attest to the truth of this notion of leadership being an understanding of humanity rather than being a jack-of-all-wisdoms – alongside the very real limits. In this dark hour of American history, we need a “Dream Team” of practical, upstanding, and judicious men and women in the Obama Administration. The current roster is very similar to the Presidential teams of the recent past – filled with a mix of topnotch picks and less worthwhile choices.Is “good help” hard to find? Yes, but they are out there; a good example of this is President Obama’s choice for Energy Secretary: Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, who got his prestigious prize in 1997 for his work on the creation of “Optical Molasses” – a trap, created with the use of six laser beams, for super-cooled atoms. Before entering the White House, Mr. Chu was the Chairman of the Physics Department at Stanford University and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which employs about 4,000 employees and is owned by the US Department of Energy; furthermore, he was also noted for holding solid credentials in scientific management. Steven Chu was born on February 28, 1948 in St. Louis, MO and grew up in Garden City, NY. Mr. Chu received his B.S. in Physics and a B.A. from the University of Rochester, and holds a PhD from University of California, Berkeley.Based on the confirmation hearings for Mr. Chu, the US energy agenda of the next four years will be a mixed one, as coal and gasoline will still be major sources of fuel for the United States. This issue seems to be challenge even for a Nobel laureate, as he seems to be confronting some harsh realities when it comes to reinventing America’s outlook on environmental concerns. What worries me is his lack of experience as a politician, especially when he has to contend with many seasoned figures on Capital Hill. The first impressions aren’t great. At his Senate confirmation hearing, he backed away from earlier statements he has made to the Wall Street Journal on the future of these nonrenewable energy sources, which said in part: “Somehow we [the US] have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” and that coal was his “nightmare.” In recognition of his past statements, Mr. Chu said, “What the American family does not want is to pay an increasing fraction of their budget, their precious dollars, for energy costs, both in transportation and keeping their homes warm and lit.” In retrospect, it may have been wiser to take a more moderate and realistic stance on the matter of renewable energy. Upgrading America to biofuel and other alternative sources may seem like an inevitable step in the progress of history, but we are not ready – so it doesn’t seem prudent to speak otherwise on this matter.At the same time, green energy and green jobs will be a priority. The prospects seem promising, since the recent stimulus bill has given Mr. Chu’s department $54 billion in incentives for environmentally friendly initiatives like smart-grid technologies, home weatherization for low-income families, retrofitting federal buildings, and carbon sequestration. In this respect, Mr. Chu seems to have at least some capital to work with for his desire to make America green and energy independent – this is also an Obama campaign promise.Nuclear power will still be a source of energy for the foreseeable future, in spite of Mr. Chu’s obvious discomfort over this decision and Congress’s support for dumping radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain – which may consequentially put the Energy Secretary at odds with the House. To sum things up, I defer to Mr. Chu’s words on our current situation, “We have lots of fossil fuel,” he said. “That’s really both good and bad news. We won’t run out of energy, but there’s enough carbon in the ground to really cook us.”To sum things up, Steven Chu is a plum pick for Energy Secretary as he is a Nobel Laureate and capable leader of the scientific community. Though he has his problems in political know-how and aversion to interests of the House of Representatives, he remains a great choice for this particular post. President Obama earns one point for this decision with me.NEXT ISSUE: “Top Military Men” – Robert Gates and Eric Shinseki