SOLAR TODA Y®
leading the renewaBle energy reVolution
what would lincoln say? By BRAD COLLINS
Itravel regularly to Washington, D.C., to work with allied
associations and meet
with program managers
at the Department of
Energy. I’m always startled by attitudes around
Capitol Hill. People
there don’t think the way
we do across America.
It will come as no surprise to SOLAR TODA Y
readers that many of our
decision makers, political appointees and staffers long ago lost touch with what matters to Main
Instead, they seem focused on lobbying
tweaks that can mean much to a particular business or industry. And they can affect all of us:
Just consider the tweaks that allowed Enron to
manipulate interstate natural gas markets.
The other big goal is to get the next political
campaign generously funded.
The week before July 4, I was in Washington
again and visited the memorials to Thomas
Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D.
Roosevelt. I wonder what they would say about
the current crowd in the capitol. Would they
understand the neurotic need to defend a partisan position? Would they endorse partisan
rhetoric based on statements that are provably
false? Would they understand why loyalty to
campaign contributors often trumps loyalty to
the country’s best interests?
I believe not.
On the southeast wall of the Jefferson
Memorial is inscribed this passage from a letter he wrote in 1810: “I am not an advocate
for frequent changes in laws and constitutions.
But laws and institutions must go hand in hand
with the progress of the human mind. As that
becomes more developed, more enlightened,
as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with
the change of circumstances, institutions must
advance also to keep pace with the times. We
might as well require a man to wear still the coat
Brad Collins is the
of the American
Society ( ases.org).
which fitted him when a boy as civilized society
to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” What would Jefferson now
say to a “strict constructionist” who wants the
Constitution interpreted according to the prevailing mores of 1787?
The conclusion of the Gettysburg Address is
chiseled in the Lincoln Memorial: “That we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died
in vain — that this nation under God shall have a
new birth of freedom — and that government of
the people by the people for the people shall not
perish from the Earth.” What would Lincoln say
to a congressman who stops all progress at the
behest of industry lobbyists?
And in the FDR memorial, we read this
excerpt from a message to Congress in 1935:
“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The
throwing out of balance of the resources of
nature throws out of balance also the lives of
men.” What would Roosevelt say to an industry
that destroys public lands and watersheds for
What does it take to be a great leader today?
The only possible answer: the same attributes it
took to be a great leader in previous centuries.
We have talented, bright and dedicated decision
makers in Washington today. Some claim the
system is broken, others that their hands are
tied, still others that they don’t have the power
to effect policy or program change.
What would Jefferson or Lincoln or FDR say
to that claim? They’d say: You came here to lead.
If the system is broken, fix it. If it cannot be fixed,
discard it. No excuses! We need leadership now,
and we will know it when we see it.
There is no party in the call to service. There
is no us versus them; there are no distinctions
among Americans. We need leaders in these
troubling times. No one else need apply.
Now go vote.
Brad Collins: Executive Director/Publisher
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ASES Board of Directors
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8 September/October 2010 SOLAR TODA Y solartoday.org
Copyright © 2010 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.