The reason Obama has a failed presidency is that he let die our best chance to preserve a livable climate and restore US leadership in clean energy – without a serious fight.
We can’t run history over again, just like we can’t run our suicidal climate experiment over again. So all suppositions that things could have been different are just that, counterfactual suppositions.
BUT we can see in the likely ratification of the New Start treaty that a completely different strategy than the one the White House had for climate change can get significant bipartisan support for a controversial piece of legislation in the face of concerted obstructionism by the Senate minority leader.
What did Obama do right on New Start that he didn’t bother to do on climate?
First and foremost, he simply never had a serious public fight. He never made it clear that this was in fact the central national security issue of our time. He never did any serious public messaging on it at all.
Second, he never unleashed the full force of his administration behind the scenes. He and Biden and many others in his administration seriously lobbied senators for New Start, making clear just how important this was for our national security and international standing. If Obama placed any phone calls to lobby fence-sitting senators on the climate bill, to make clear that this was do or die for the nation and his administration, no one I know has heard about them. Indeed, it seems quite clear that he never made personal phone calls to fence-sitting Democrats to explain to them that a climate and clean energy jobs bill was going to come to the floor and they should tell him what they need in it and they should NOT publicly go around saying that there’s no way the bill could ever get 60 votes. Once it was clear that Obama wasn’t keeping his own troops in line, that he couldn’t bring 56 or 57 Democrats, that made it all but impossible to round up the handful of Republicans needed.
Third, he never made a serious effort to bring in a high-profile bipartisan opinion leaders, including the top national security brass, to publicly push for a climate bill. How about designing a public and political campaign around people like Reagan’s Secretary of State (and Nixon’s Treasury Secretary) George P. Shultz — see Shultz challenges CA to lead on clean energy, defeat Proposition 23: Losing “would be a catastrophe”; Former Secretary of State and Treasury: “There’s a climate problem connected with the burning of fossil fuels…. The basic facts are pretty clear”?
Fourth, he never put his own skin in the game in the sense of developing his own bottom line climate and clean energy bill. Yes, a climate bill that could have gotten 60 votes in the Senate would have been a grave disappointment to progressives, including me, I’m sure. But the bottom line was we needed a bill that 1) could allow him to legitimately go to the international community and say that he was going to meet his Copenhagen pledge to cut emissions 17% by 2020 and 2) put a price on carbon with some of the proceeds going to advance clean energy.
With New Start — and the tax bill — the Administration negotiated the bill itself with the other side (Russia in the first case and the GOP leadership in the second case). Then they made the public and private pitch that you have to take the whole package, with no changes. Sure, that approach might not have worked with something as complicated as the climate and clean energy jobs bill. But it did work with the tax bill and the pity of it all is that we will never know if a different approach might have worked with climate.
But the now all-but-inevitable passage of New Start means that it’s a legitimate question to ask.
Also, the winning strategy for New Start is likely to be the winning strategy adopted by whatever future president succeeds in passing a serious climate bill.
Finally, as always, I’m not saying that the failure of the climate bill was primarily the fault of Obama. More of the blame resides with the media, thanks to their generally enabling coverage “” (see “And the 2010 Citizen Kane award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to “¦” and “How the status quo media failed on climate change” and How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics “” “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress”).
And as discussed in my June 30 post (“Republicans demagogue against market-oriented climate measures they once supported“), most of the blame should go to the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues. They have spread disinformation and poisoned the debate so that is no longer even recognizable. Who could have guessed just a couple of years ago, that the GOP champion of climate action would now trash a bill considerably weaker than the one he tried to pass twice? (see Rolling Stone on “The Climate Killers: 17 polluters and deniers who are derailing efforts to curb the climate catastrophe.”)
Indeed, because their denial has been given a free political pass (with notable exceptions such as California and Colorado), the ideologues have actually embraced denial of basic science as a litmus test, along with opposition to even the most business-friendly, Republican-originated strategies for reducing emissions.
That is precisely why action is possible only once in a generation: Modern conservative ideology has become 100% anti-conservation. Indeed, this is why Tea-Party ‘conservatism’ may be the most radical political philosophy ever to achieve significant political power in this country, since it ultimately will destroy the American way of life as we have come to know it, leading to untold misery and far bigger government than this country has seen in the post-WWII era (see “Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery“).
And that is precisely why president Obama needed to push harder for climate bill than he did for New Start. He didn’t — and countless long-suffering future generations are unlikely to forgive him for that blunder.
- Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?
- The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2
- The White House lamely blames environmentalists for climate bill failure
- Some pundits challenge my statement, “Future generations are likely to view Obama’s choice of health care over energy and climate legislation as a blunder of historic proportions.” Here’s why they are wrong.