Viewpoint -- Life In A Swing State -- Bush Hot On Democratic Candidates' Heels In Courting Cleveland

One reporter's somewhat cynical take on the President's recent visit to Cleveland.

Perhaps seeking to offset some of the recent press garnered by the four Democratic candidates who made an appearance at a United Steelworkers convention in Cleveland late last week, on July 10 President George W. Bush today visited a Cleveland area fuel cell manufacturer and the Cleveland Clinic.

The President's whirlwind appearance began with a tour at GrafTech International, a leading U.S. hydrogen fuel cell manufacturer located in Parma, Ohio. I say "whirlwind" because he blew in, twisted up traffic, then blew back out.

In between, the President actually had some interesting things to say, which I've excerpted below. With sarcastic comments, of course. Only a few, though.

"I've come to Cleveland to highlight a couple of important issues. First, energy independence is an important part of our nation's future."

(Is it just me, or does that line sound like "an important part of a nutritious breakfast"? And isn't that line usually applied to the cereals that aren't anywhere near being a nutritious breakfast all by themselves? Either way, it seems sadly appropriate for this President to be channeling Saturday morning cartoon interruptions...)

All sarcasm aside, the President did sound as if he's seen the "green light," speaking of alternative energies as a security issue, and in the strict market-based terms that are going to prove to be a stronger motivator for adoption than any tree-hugging appeal to guilt or passion.

"One way to achieve energy independence is to promote technologies that will enable us to drive our economy without the use of Middle Eastern oil, for example. And one such technology is hydrogen fuel cells, and GrafTech is on the leading edge of developing a technology that will work, that will be competitive with other forms of energy, and that will enable us, on the one hand, to be less dependent on oil, and better stewards of the environment."

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OK wait a second -- that's "on the one hand," but then he never finishes the figure of speech. Where's that other hand, Mr. President?

I really hope it's not behind his back with his fingers crossed.

At GrafTech, the President got to see the fruits of the $100 million in Department of Energy grants for fuel cell technologies being developed at the Parma company's Advanced Flexible Graphite facility, where they manufacture flow field plates, a key component in fuel cell power generation. The President was impressed.

"I'm glad to be with these entrepreneurs, these scientists, these thinkers. As part of the hydrogen fuel cell initiative that I proposed to the Congress, this company got a grant. And I think it's a wise use of taxpayers' money, to help the people in this company develop this new technology. This forklift right here is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Doesn't require any oil, or products derived from oil. And the exhaust from this is water."

President Bush is correct in pointing out the practical features of this new technology -- lift trucks are a great use of fuel-cell technology, especially for high-use environments. Better than those that run on petroleum products, lift trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells are also outperforming battery-powered trucks. In fact, our senior editor John Teresko wrote about how lift trucks may be the intermediate step needed to get to the post-petroleum "hydrogen economy" in the July issue of IndustryWeek (you can read the story here).

The President then moved on to attack the other issues on the national table these days -- health care and the Iraq war -- and the differences between the positions of the Democratic candidates and the current Republican administration could not have been made any clearer. For starters, Bush is adamantly opposed to any government control over the for-profit health care system.

"I will resist the idea of the federal government running the health care system, and I'm going to spend some time talking during a town hall meeting about the kinds of reforms that we ought to be promoting out of Washington that encourage there to be a consumer-driven health care system. We'll take care of the poor, and we'll help the elderly. But we believe health care is best run in the private sector, not by the government."

He is also opposed to failure in Iraq. Whatever that means.

"I'm going to spend some time talking about the war on terror and our need to succeed in Iraq. And I'm going to remind the people in the audience today that troop levels will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington, D.C., and that we've got a plan to lead to victory. And I fully understand that this is a difficult war, and it's hard on the American people. But I will once again explain the consequences of failure to the American people, and I'll explain the consequences of success, as well."

So, no plans to start drawing down our Iraq "engagement" anytime soon and no plans for an overhaul of an overtaxed system to relieve the pressure on his overburdened constituents. But he did point out a cool lift truck powered by a fuel cell that is saving U.S. manufacturers money right now -- something I think any politician that loves this country can agree on.

So there you have it -- five major political figures in as many days coming to my humble hometown of Cleveland. Sometimes it's nice to be in a swing state -- you get to feel like you're vote is taken seriously, without having to endure the full barrage from both barrels of our big-gun political machinery like the big primary states do every two years.

And with the never-ending spin cycle spouting from an army of talking heads covering the every action of the legions of candidates who relentlessly march ever onwards, it seems as if our political campaigns are a waste of more time, energy and national resources than ever before.

Unless we could somehow capture and store all that hot air...


Brad Kenney is an equal-opportunity cynic and an associate editor at IndustryWeek, based out of Cleveland. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. Feel free to register your agreement or displeasure at our Reader Talk-Back forum.
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