Tesla vs. the Government

The Biden administration announced a plan to promote electric vehicles today, part of its response to the world’s growing climate emergency. This is a vast improvement from the previous administration’s do-nothing stance but it is still woefully inadequate.

Part of the reason for the plan’s shortcomings is its constantly touted “bipartisan” approach. Thanks to this bipartisanship, Biden’s infrastructure plan has been substantially cut back, is running behind schedule, and is far from guaranteed Congressional passage. Its shrinkage of electric vehicle support is particularly notable—what had been the largest single portion of the infrastructure bill has been significantly reduced.

The 2021 Tesla Model Y. Photo: Tesla.com.
The 2021 Tesla Model Y. Photo: Tesla.com.

At today’s event, Detroit’s three major automakers were present. They say they support Biden’s modest goal of having EVs or plug-in electric hybrids constitute half of all auto sales by 2030. There are several striking things wrong with this picture:

  • Plug-in electric hybrids currently only travel 25 to 40 miles on electric alone; they depend heavily on gas. Therefore they should not count toward Biden’s 50% goal.
  • Even if the goal were 50% purely battery electric vehicles (BEVs), it would still well lag behind what is needed to address climate change today.
  • While representatives of Detroit’s “Big 3” smiled and shuffled and congratulated themselves on their forward thinking, the largest and most successful EV manufacturer on earth was conspicuously absent, having not been invited.

I am of course referring to Tesla, the company which put BEVs on the map and which still maintains a wide technological and sales lead in the sector.

Tesla, operating in less than ideal circumstances (the four years of Trump’s administration, to cite just one example) has almost single-handedly pushed electric vehicles into the public spotlight. The company has also managed to get a large number of electric vehicles onto the nation’s streets and highways, having sold more than 200,000 cars last quarter. Yet Tesla was not invited to be part of Biden’s big EV event, an event where he joked about one day driving an “electric Corvette.”

I’m sorry to say this yet again, but the Tesla omission is yet another example of the current administration’s fumbling, inadequate response to both America’s mediocre infrastructure and our accelerating climate crisis.

Collapsing Infrastructure

The heading above is, sadly, quite literal, the Florida condo collapse being only the most recent example of America’s dangerously neglected roads, bridges and buildings. But the heading also refers to President Biden’s attempts to address the problem—by compromising with Republicans on a smaller package, and by pushing projected passage of this legislation out to the fall, the Democratic administration risks accomplishing nothing whatsoever.

Rescue crew members and a search-and-rescue dog at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, FL. Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.
Rescue crew members and a search-and-rescue dog at the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, FL. Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.

As of this writing, it appears that well over 150 people will have perished in the Florida disaster. Residents of neighboring buildings wonder, rightly, if their homes are safe to occupy. Where is the sense of urgency that should be driving attempts to repair our infrastructure? (Where, for that matter, is the urgency that should be driving our efforts to preserve the right to vote?)

Are we going to continue to accept our slide into societal mediocrity? Are we going to allow Republicans, by engaging in “bipartisan” negotiations with them, to reassert minority rule in Congress next year?

The “GOP” has become a party of nihilists, a party that doesn’t care whether America falls apart as long as it retains power. The Democrats, in contrast, seem willfully ineffective. They have so far failed to protect the basic right to vote, and—until and unless this reduced infrastructure bill passes—they have failed to address our crumbling roads and bridges. (Don’t even ask about climate change.) By trying to achieve a bipartisan consensus that is no longer possible, Biden and his delusional colleagues may well have dug another large pothole on our country’s road to ruin.

Build Back Better

After getting off to a widely praised (among Democrats) fast start, the Biden administration is slowing down. I’m thinking of the $2.25 trillion infrastructure package in particular, where Democrats have, at the President’s urging, tried to negotiate with Republicans to pass a bipartisan plan. It has become obvious, at the end of May, that the two parties are very far apart—just as they are on virtually everything else.

President Biden driving a disguised electric F-150 truck at Ford's Electric Vehicle Center on May 18. Photo: Doug Mills, The New York Times.
President Biden driving a disguised electric F-150 truck at Ford’s Electric Vehicle Center on May 18. Photo: Doug Mills, The New York Times.

The Republicans retain a dated view of what constitutes infrastructure, one that excludes electric vehicles, for example. It is another instance of their willful disregard of science, of climate change, and of the need to create new economic and social opportunities to improve the country’s health. EVs represent a wide-ranging near- and mid-term economic boom that will encompass a large population while also helping to meet the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. How can the Republicans not see this?

The same way they cannot see their responsibility for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The same way they insist on investigating Black Lives Matter alongside that insurrection. The same way they retain fealty to Donald Trump, who did everything he could to accelerate America’s downward path.

When the Ford Motor Company, hardly a model for social democratic initiatives, introduces an electric version of their F–150 pickup, America’s best-selling vehicle, it’s obvious that EVs represent the future. Republicans, as usual, do not. Instead, they represent a very real and increasing threat to the future, in myriad ways. And it goes without saying that they are negotiating in bad faith on infrastructure.

President Biden has spent enough time on this last-ditch attempt at bipartisanship—a former political norm which, for all practical purposes, is dead. It’s time to use the reconciliation process to “build back better” and more broadly, in order to address this country’s huge infrastructure needs on the widest possible scale.