The Wikipedia category "George W. Bush administration controversies" is a cornucopia of screw-ups, power grabs and big fuck-you's to the American public. The anonymous army that compiles the site has tagged 145 articles as subjects that could be considered Bush scandals, ranging in seriousness from the invasion of Iraq to the rewriting of NASA's website to note that the Big Bang is just a theory.
The category "Obama administration controversies" has a mere 17 entries. Most of them the president either inherited (Guantanamo Bay), he was only tangentially involved in (Shirley Sherrod) or were never really news. (Remember the outrage over the use of the name of Geronimo as a codeword in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden? Me neither.)
The newest entry into this small category is the article for Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer that went belly up, taking $528 million from the stimulus bill with it. Republicans have been frothing at revelations that the funds helped guarantee an investment in Solyndra by billionaire George Kaiser, a $50,000 Obama donor. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan has called it "crony capitalism at its worst." Fox News established an entire section of Solyndra "news" on its website, and the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee is continuing its investigation, already yippy at having found e-mails from White House staffers pushing for the cash to be sent over in time for Obama's photo-op at a new plant.
So what really happened at Solyndra? The six-year-old company collapsed due to a trend (one that was not new but accelerated quickly) in which Chinese manufacturers undercut American ones for solar energy technology. Private investors also believed in Solyndra's viability, to the tune of $1 billion, and the Bush administration came close to offering the company the same deal.
It's hardly shocking that Kaiser's fingerprints are on the company — he is a billionaire investor and, as an Obama supporter, would gravitate towards something like green energy. The entire system of special deals between the public sector and corporations is vexing, but it's certainly not unusual that Kaiser and other investors will get their money back from taxpayer coffers — that's what a federal loan guarantee is: a pledge, used as an incentive to invest, that the government will pay back investors in the case of a default.
So far, the Energy and Commerce Committee, despite its strong desire for something more, has only found e-mails from political operatives acting like political operatives and motivated Solyndra executives to plead the Fifth at congressional hearings, both of which look bad but yield zero evidence of actual misdoings. (And nothing so far has come of an FBI visit to Solyndra's headquarters.)
That $528 million is just 1.3 percent of Department of Energy's loan portfolio, which, Mother Jones points out, is its only black mark, and it's an even tinier portion of the $787 billion stimulus.
What happened is this: In the face of complicated factors, the government made a bad decision and lost a relatively small amount of taxpayer money.
But conservatives want more than that. They've been waiting for a bona fied Obama controversy since that rumored tape of Michelle saying "whitie" failed to surface. That's why a gruelingly patient, laidback and compromise-happy president has been painted a socialist, an extremist and a death panelist.
Still, Republicans face an election in which voters will probably approach Obama not with indignation but with the dry, tired thoughtfulness they'd take to the performance review of an employee who's not quite meeting expectations. Meanwhile, the GOP's field of presidential candidates wouldn't suffer in terms of viability if each one was replaced by some random person picked off the street.
So they'll play Solyndra for all its worth, or maybe try to revive one of those other 16 "controversies" listed on Wikipedia. How pissed does it make you that Air Force One frightened officials in New York City by taking the plane over the Statue of Liberty unannounced for a photo-op one time in 2009? Or that Obama Ambassador to Luxemburg Cynthia Stroum lost her post due to a curt management style and questionable expense account purchases? And, hey, remember Van Jones?