Corrected on 6/26/08: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the size of the prize in John McCain's Clean Car Challenge. It is $300 million.
So Barack Obama doesn't think much of John McCain's $300 million Clean Car Challenge, treating it as if it's some new reality show on the Discovery Channel masquerading as energy policy:
When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn't put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win—he put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people—not just in the private sector but also in the public sector.
My take: Actually, this idea is exactly the sort of thing Mr. Change should have proposed himself. (BTW, Hillary Clinton was in favor of such prizes when she was still running.) Innovation prizes are a very 21st-century, open-source method of solving problems. The Ansari X-Prize has accelerated the space tourism industry, and Google has created a similar prize for a private moon mission. (I bet an innovation prize in the 1960s would have put more than 12 men on the moon for way less than the $100 billion than that effort cost.)
The government's own top thinkers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are using innovation prizes to create smarter robots. Private companies are using them internally to generate new approaches and ideas. It is a way for government to actively try to solve a big problem without creating a massive bureaucracy or favoring companies with good lobbying efforts. Instead, Obama is having a '70s flashback by offering a windfall profits tax to help fund a command-and-control research effort by government.
Obama's knee-jerk opposition to the McCain plan really reflects what an old-fashioned agenda he's been proposing. I can't find anything in it that either goes against decades of Democratic orthodoxy (fix Social Security? Raise taxes!) or reflects any of the novel policy ideas put out by liberal think tanks, much less conservative ones.
It's like a warmed-over version of Bill Clinton's "putting people first" agenda (Obama even resurrects Clinton's high-speed rail idea) infused with a healthy dose of Carternomics. (Since he's been hiring economists lately, Obama might want to give Hillary's top guy, Gene Sperling, a call.) Obama must believe those polls that show him up by double digits over McCain because that's how he's running his campaign right now, like a guy with a big lead trying to run out the clock and not make any mistakes.