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Obama: I don't regret Solyndra

October 4, 2011: 4:00 PM ET

I'm not going to regret this...

To err is human. To regret is impolitic.

That was the message yesterday from President Obama, when asked about Solyndra during an ABC/Yahoo interview yesterday with George Stephanopoulos. Here is the exchange:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Your White House has faced a lot of questions on Solyndra, the-- solar panel company you paid a visit to back in 2010. You really held it up then as a model for jobs and clean energy. Do you regret that?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I don't, because if you look at the overall portfolio of loan guarantees that have been provided-- overall, it's doing well. And what we always understood was that not every single business is going to succeed in clean energy. But if we want to compete with China, which is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into this space. If we want to compete with other countries that are heavily subsidizing the industries of the future, we've got to make sure that our guys here in the United States of America at least have a shot. Now there are gonna be some failures, and Solyndra's an example.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --getting warnings not to back that company up, not to visit.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well-- you know, it-- hindsight is always 20/20. It went through the regular review process. And people felt like this was a good bet. But the fact of the matter is-- is that if we don't get behind clean energy, if we don't get behind advanced battery manufacturing, if we're not the ones who are creating the cars of the future, then we're not going to be able to make stuff here in the United States of America. And one of the most important things that I want to do over the next several years is restore a sense that America can manufacture, but we don't just purchase stuff from someplace else, but we're also exporting to other countries.

No regrets Mr. President? Seriously?

Stephanopoulos did not ask about the broader loan guarantee portfolio, or the need to support America's alternative energy market. He asked specifically about Solyndra, which has gone bankrupt after burning through $528 million in federal monies. He didn't even ask if the Solyndra loans were politically-motivated -- an oft-repeated charge that has yet to be supported by actual evidence.

He simply wanted to know if Obama regrets holding Solyndra up as the model for jobs and clean energy. How could his answer have been anything but: "Of course I do."

This isn't to accuse the the Department of Energy of doing shoddy due diligence. Or to tar the loan guarantee program as a failure. Instead, it would simply have been an acknowledgement that the Administration's decision to highlight Solyndra -- rather than another, still-viable loan recipient -- has helped cast a pall on both the larger program and its noble goals.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20, as Obama said. But regret is retrospective by its nature. You can both support your original decision (based on facts then in evidence) and still wish you had come to a different conclusion. The faster Obama formally regrets Solyndra, the faster his clean energy program can move forward.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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