With the release of the chief restructuring officer’s report, the scandal over the bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra is being declared over. Kevin Drum says it’s a big “nothingburger,” pointing to Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-California) concession that there was “perhaps not” any criminal activity. Fortune’s Roger Parloff has a pretty thorough post-mortem. Grist’s perpetually irate David Roberts says the whole thing was a sideshow.
A few points:
First, you read it here four months ago. After Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s embarrassing-to-all-concerned House testimony – during which the Nobel laureate pled a combination of ignorance, incompetence and bi-partisan support for green pork – I noted that Solyndra’s half-billion-dollar scandal had run its course:
I don’t really disagree that Solyndra has exhausted a radioactive half-life. (There’s more radiation on the sun than there was at Three Mile Island, people!) The fact that there is bi-partisan – or is it transpartisan? – support for this kind of waste should make the story that much more maddening. But within the Republocrat consensus it’s considered a mitigating circumstance.
The Republicans’ Inspector Clouseau routine with Chu left little hope that we’re going to get an aggressive investigation in this era of collegiality. And that’s not counting the shameless behavior of Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) and Henry Waxman (D-California), who began the Solyndra scandal making public-spirited noises but ended up running interference for the president.
I’m still hoping for a Rhambo subpoena. Like Evel Knievel and the Blessed Virgin Mary, I reserve the right to announce my last appearance on earth and then continue making appearances. But Solyndra does seem to be passing into the afterlife with Hillary Clinton’s statistically improbable cattle futures gains and Halliburton’s no-bid Iraq contracts: mysteries that fade not because they’ve been solved but because corruption is the fuel of effective politics.
Second, none of this stuff is new. Grist’s Roberts, who for reasons of his own attributes the Solyndra scandal to a vast right-wing conspiracy centered in the GOP-controlled halls of Politico, has been trying to wish the scandal away for the better part of a year. He’s not the only one. The criminal claims around Solyndra did not originate with the Republicans but with the president’s own Departments of Justice, Treasury and Energy. I have said all along that the criminal angle was a dead end, and it had the practical effect of shutting down the most promising material in the congressional probe.
Third, despite those obstacles, the Solyndra probe ended up shedding quite a bit of light. President Obama’s cronyism and shaky grasp of even basic 99-cent-store economics are now clear to anybody who is not willfully in denial. Chu has been revealed as a fool. Energy subsidies have been discredited, even if that hasn’t quite filtered up to the Energy Department, which is still setting aside multi-billion-dollar subsidies for green energy boondoggles:
Most importantly, the folly of government industrial policy has been subjected to a long and continuing scrub. A company as bad as Solyndra can’t be created by mere stupidity. It takes a particular kind of misguided genius and a lot of money from unwilling investors. If the nothingburger sideshow has made that clearer to one or two people, it was worth something, though not half a billion dollars.