Exclusive: EDF’s Fred Krupp on “how we begin to rebuild public support for climate action and the political will to pass climate legislation.”

“we need to figure out a way to get people in more places to listen to our case on the merits….”

“Frankly a couple of electoral losses attributable to bad environmental records would do a tremendous amount to restore some political will.”

Those are excerpts from an email sent me by Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund.  I asked him to elaborate on and/or clarify his controversial comments as quoted in this Greenwire/NYT piece, “EDF Chief: ‘Shrillness’ of Greens Contributed to Climate Bill’s Failure in Washington,” which a number of people e-mailed to me or posted comments on.

No one was more central to the environmental community’s strategy and tactics in the fight to pass a climate bill than Krupp, which is made clear in Eric Pooley’s must-read book on the bill’s life and death, The Climate War.

Unlike some, I don’t think the strategy was particularly flawed, even if it was far from perfect.  And even though I have issues with some of the communications tactics, in fact a majority of Americans ended up supporting strong climate action (see “Downplaying climate change was and is a blunder for progressives” and links below).

In dividing up blame for the failure, I think the anti-science crowd and their disinformation campaign and associated think tanks, pundits, and right-wing media deserve about 60% of the blame.  The MSM, perhaps 30%.  The do-little centrists and confusionists get another 5%.

But introspection is inevitable and useful after such seminal failure.  What follows is Krupp’s entire email to me:

I’d like to thank Joe for giving me the opportunity to continue the conversation about how we begin to rebuild public support for climate action and the political will to pass climate legislation. Those are not necessarily the same thing, though they clearly overlap – and each requires attention. In short, the political will of politicians can, and often does come from places other than the public, and in fact political decisions often fly in the face of public opinion. More on political will at the end.

In terms of public support, Joe this week has a thought-provoking piece on the messaging war surrounding cap and trade bills in the last Congress, and this week at the [Fortune] Brainstorm Green conference I offered some of my own thoughts about how we can reengage the public in a meaningful dialogue about climate change that helps us move forward.

One of my comments that’s received a lot of attention is that the environmental community needs to lose some of the “shrillness” that’s permeated our advocacy over the last few years. By that, I certainly didn’t mean to somehow suggest that those opposed to action were ok in there shrillness. Scare tactics and deliberate partisanship by our opponents were a major contributor to the atmosphere that blocked climate action in the Senate, as were a number of other factors.

What I did mean was that in order to overcome those tactics and partisanship, we needed to do a better job of engaging with the public, rather than often just lecturing. We need to do a better job of listening, and of connecting to needs as the public sees them, rather than just telling them what they ought to be worried about. In that space we can have a conversation, and in that space we can break down the barriers that too often exist around the discussion of climate. Otherwise, much of the country tends to tune us out, creating too much room for the other side to sow their fear and confusion.

Another way of saying this is that I think it is in our best interest to figure out how to bring the debate back to a more reasoned discussion. In that kind of calmer discussion, facts and science – about economics, about impacts – will play a bigger role, which can only help our cause. We will not likely have 60 pro-environment senators any time soon, so we need to figure out a way to get people in more places to listen to our case on the merits. Right now, they tune us out, and I don’t think being in-your-face will help fix that.

Having said that, the other piece of this is direct interaction with pubic officials, and about how we create and support political will within that group. I remain an advocate of reasoned arguments for elected officials – but there are clearly times when strategies have to reach beyond that as well. This is an area where I think Joe and I agree: we need to do a far better job of holding members of Congress accountable when they vote against protecting public health and welfare. When someone like Senator Jim Inhofe deliberately distorts the truth, we need to hit back hard with the facts. And when members of Congress – Democrats or Republicans – reach for demagoguery rather than solutions, when they agree to attack EPA rather than lead, they need to be called out, and strongly.

Frankly a couple of electoral losses attributable to bad environmental records would do a tremendous amount to restore some political will. That’s just different than re-engaging the public.

I would echo Krupp’s point that getting public support for climate action (which we were successful in doing, see links below) and getting political will to pass climate legislation (e.g. 60 votes in the Senate) are not the same thing.

I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this subject and on Krupp’s comments.

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20 Responses to Exclusive: EDF’s Fred Krupp on “how we begin to rebuild public support for climate action and the political will to pass climate legislation.”

  1. 350 Now says:

    C-Span TV is airing the debate now on repealing the EPA authority to regulate C02 now – 3:45 ET.
    It’s not pretty.

  2. Coastal Advocate says:

    One place EDF could start to turn things around would be in Louisiana, where they have refused to confront a Governor and Congressional Delegation who have actively worked to derail national climate legislation and the ability of EPA to regulate GHG’s, even as they’ve asked for billions in federal dollars to restore a declining coast being impacted by sea-level rise. The Governor and several of his cabinet secretaries joined Texas in vehemently opposing EPA’s “Endangerment Finding” on greenhouse gases in 2009. Louisiana’s GOP delegation in the House has supported and co-sponsored the Upton Bill to prevent EPA from acting on the issue, and their junior Senator (Vitter) is one of the strongest opponents of climate action in the Senate. (The Senior Senator Landrieu isn’t much better.) EDF has received a reported million dollars from a private donor to work on restoration of Louisiana’s coast, yet in the one state where they could link a large-scale coastal crisis with the climate crisis, they have been silent in the face of politicians who are anti-science and irresponsible in the extreme. Perhaps the money has instilled more caution in this once highly regarded NGO, rather than less.

  3. Michael Tucker says:

    “When someone like Senator Jim Inhofe deliberately distorts the truth, we need to hit back hard with the facts. And when members of Congress – Democrats or Republicans – reach for demagoguery rather than solutions, when they agree to attack EPA rather than lead, they need to be called out, and strongly.”

    YES! Progressive leaders must do exactly that and they have not. They have not called out Republicans on any of their distortions of any issue except maybe the budget debate and even then they have let many opportunities pass. This has been a chronic problem for the Democratic Party for years and it is frequently a topic of discussion on the Maddow show.

    “Frankly a couple of electoral losses attributable to bad environmental records would do a tremendous amount to restore some political will. That’s just different than re-engaging the public.”

    I apologize for being so dense but who would be voting against these people if it is not ‘the public’? I wonder if Inhofe’s ‘public’ would be upset by his abysmal record on the environment? I am convinced he is a waste of time and should be replaced but…I don’t vote in that state.

    So was that the “other places” for political will? I am not trying to make light of your tremendous efforts, hard work, and monumental disappointment with our political leaders. Our leaders do respond to their constituents and the science deniers in congress have been doing just that.

    I think you need to be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, a majority of Americans don’t really support strong climate action. I know you don’t agree but surly, if a majority supported STRONG action how would science deniers have a chance?

    I favor strong action. I favor strong action even if it increases my utility and transportation costs. I favor strong action even if it increases my cost of living across the board. Science deniers have absolutely no impact on how I feel with regard to immediate action.

  4. Leif says:

    It is very difficult to have a discussion when the media only looks for and listens to sound bites.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Right is resorting to brutish demagogy here in Australia as well. They always ape their US Republican role models, sooner or later, being servile lackeys to power and admirers of all bullies, particularly the Big Ones. We have already had Abbott the Opposition Leader, aided and abetted by the Murdoch pathocracy and the ever more deranged Rightwing extremists of talk-back radio, stirring up a geriatric mob of senile delinquents to shake their fists, spit their venom and shout their outrage at being made to pay a few dollars a week to protect their grandchildren’s lives. That it is repeatedly stated that this expense will be compensated by the government shows just how dull and how venomous is this denialist mob. The fury at a ‘carbon price’ is, in my opinion, simply a mask for their real rage, at climate science and ‘smart-arse’ scientists who they have been brainwashed to hate. With most of this type it doesn’t rise to the level of difference of opinion, as the denialist Dunning-Kruger-Joycites are intellectually insufficient to contemplate and judge the facts. No-they’ve just been told, by those who do their thinking for them, that scientists are Commos, the Greens ‘watermelons’ and ‘antisemites’ and they’re after their 4WDs (SUVs) and plasma TVs. Hence the inchoate, and growing rage, as a veritable lynch-mob mentality is deliberately fomented.
    Another manifestation of this Rightwing mob moroncy was on display the other night. This time the mob was of ‘recreational’ fishermen and anglers, conjured up by a Rightwing state politician, and the target was the proposal to set aside 10% of South Australian coastal waters as biodiversity reserves, without fishing. Despite the clear scientific fact that local fisheries, as everywhere else, are under mounting stress, and that the Government scientist in charge stated that he possessed over one hundred research projects that showed that reserves worked as refuges within which fish could breed up and replenish all the surrounding regions, despite the fact that this involved only 10% of coastal waters, the Dunning-Kruger-Joyce mob went ape-shit. As is their wont there was much shouting, gesticulating and crude language, and screeched avowals that the law would simply be disregarded. It’s times like these, so common these days, that I ponder whether there has ever, anywhere in the omniverse, been a species so determined to destroy itself by fouling its own nest as our own? Surely not.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Green groups used to do well with the “Dirty Dozen” in Congress, many of whom were subsequently defeated. Each member was shown with his voting record, and habitual support for polluters.

    Fred and Joe, we obviously need to expand that list now, which could easily feature 200 members of Congress. There must be at least 50 who have single digit scores from the League of Conservation Voters, and McConnell scored a zero recently. Congressmen who answer only to polluting corporations need to be humiliated and defeated, in spite of all of the bullshit about their standing for “working American families” per Luntz’ instructions.

    The Democrats are afraid of this issue. Why? They don’t want to lose an election in Missouri or Ohio? It’s the perfect opportunity for green groups to fill the void, and unite on something they should all agree on. You should include some Democrats in the list, like Manchin and Stabenow.

  7. sault says:

    I agree that the “in your face” approach really turns people off, but you have to balance that with the fact that wonky policy discussions do the same thing. The deniers use the “in your face” method while the delayers bury their misinformation in seemingly wonky terms hoping that the average voter just thinks that there’s still a scientific debate about AGW, if they think about it at all. The two approaches have been successful so far in preventing action on climate change. Looking back at recent history, the worsening economy was also a huge distraction that still trumps environmental concerns in the mind of the average voter. To top it off, the White House was caught flat-footed by the climate bill that came out of the House and showed almost zero leadership in trying to get something through the Senate.

    Now, with the balance of power in Congress tilted away from positive action on climate/environment issues, building public support is more important than ever. Public outcry is the only way to keep the Clean Air Act and clean energy investment from being gutted.

    Since the “Fox News” 30 – 35% of the country probably won’t be swayed by even the best arguements for the reality of climate change and the benefits of mitigation, the effort needs to focus on the 30 – 50% of the electorate that are independents. This isn’t a monolithic group, otherwise they would take over a wing of one of the parties or make up their own.

    There are a lot of low-information voters in this group whose attention can be grabbed with catch-phrases and simple bits of info that appear to conform with “common sense”. A lot of Republican messaging is aimed at these people such as “cut and run”, “Drill here, drill now!” and “Contract with America”. Catch phrases that might actually be true could include, “Green jobs, clean air and no foreign oil, it’s WIN, WIN, WIN!” or “Wind here, solar now!” The problem of trying to open up the climate change debate with these people is that the denier talking points are highly entertaining and fit into the narrative that scientists don’t even know what they’re talking about. The issue is too complex to distill into a 10-second talking point and it is all to easy for doubt to be sewn by a denier in the same length of time. The best quick counter to misinformation I can think of is (in responding to a denier hack on TV), “What don’t you understand, that carbon traps heat or that were releasing billions of tons of it into the air?” or “Why is Venus hotter than Mecury if carbon doesn’t trap heat?”. Simple and short responses like these that make sense are what we need to at least get the low-information voter to look into the issue and become a medium-information voter.

    Another group of independents are the individuals that get turned off by the partisan debate about any issue and the bombastic rhetoric by the deniers is designed to make these people feel that climate change is just another party squabble over votes. These people can be won over by reasoned discussion, but these people tend to follow what I call the “CNN consensus” and since CNN has totally dropped the ball on climate issues (as well as mostly anything else for the last few years), it is difficult to get traction among this group. Getting the Anderson Cooper types or any of the major network news programs to do a good job in covering climate change accurately would help sway this group.

    Finally, getting more people into green jobs would also do wonders for action on climate change, so it makes sense to encourage growth in this sector. NIMBYism and forest-for-the-trees environmentalism that disrupts renewable energy development is extremely counterproductive. Additionally, we should all put our money where our mouth is and buy up sustainable, efficient and/or renewable products whenever we can.

  8. Alex 77 says:

    If the Krupp/ED strategy on passing effective climate legislation failed us so utterly and consequentially in the recent past, why are we now turning to him for more advice and leadership on how to do better next time?

    I’m reminded of the way right wing prognosticators and pundits never lose their credibility or positions, no matter how spectacularly wrong they are found to have been (Iraq war, Wolfowitz, Greenspan, etc.) As I understand it, Krupp is an Obama-esque grand compromiser, uber-centrist and highly corporate. Instructing climate hawks/realists that we need to fine-tune our shrillness

    I’m most nauseated by his quote “we need to figure out a way to get people in more places to listen to our case on the merits….” Krupp implies that our political system is functional as designed, meritocratic, and responsive to the desires of voters. Total b******t, and either totally dishonest or naive. 2000+ lobbyists with unlimited funding descended upon DC to stop any climate legislation, and would have done so (and succeeded) irrespective of any pro-environment political climate that existed in the US. Until Krupp acknowledges this reality and proposes a strategy that can overcome it, he has no place commanding this battle.

    In war, wise commanders replace failed generals. General Fred Krupp oversaw our movement’s most spectacular and important defeat in a generation, under the best conditions we’ll see for a long time. I’m sure our opponents are licking their chops at the prospect of him leading us again.

  9. Shelly says:

    Green jobs is too much of an abstract for the media and most people. Climate change as a whole is still a topic the media considers “controversial”. What people understand is lawsuits. Either the government or all of these fossil fuel companies need to be sued by those already suffering from climate change, whether it’s those suffering from hurricane damage, tornado damage, or people in other countries suffering from floods, etc. Surely the number of environmental attorneys is growing. They need to be proactive and seek out some enviromental lawsuits to pursue against coal, tar sands and other major threats.

  10. Andy Hultgren says:

    With an overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House (and more extremists than in the Senate), is the 60-vote bar in the Senate still truly the barrier? Or, assuming it takes more than one election cycle for the Republican’s large majority in the House to seriously shift, is the House more problematic now?

    If the House is indeed the bigger barrier, will electoral hits due to poor environmental records even be enough?

    To clarify – I’m all in favor of punishing politicians for a poor environmental record. However, what timeline are we talking about here for a shift in Washington politics? Four years? Six years? More?

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    To re-engage the general public, you need to start by looking at what they want. e.g. I gather they want jobs (I’m not an American) so they will be receptive to the fact that around the world, the fastest growing jobs are in clean technologies.

    The other thing people all round the world want is cleaner, safer, stronger, more cohesive communities. So start getting community people together to plan and then implement their plans for these cleaner etc communities. They will become more cohesive in the process.

    When people are working together around shared goals, they start to trust each other more and, therefore, listen more attentively to and learn from each other. People also do not want to be isolated within their community or group and rapidly change their minds when they see the others accepting the climate science and working to mitigate and prepare for it. Isolation is very uncomfortable for humans, ME

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    Alex 77, good comment.

    Unfortunately, Krupp, Pope, and even the new leadership of formerly courageous green NGO’s have become Beltway talkers, not leaders. Like Obama, they are afraid of offending people, but their talk and actions seem equally geared to avoiding offending our natural enemies- people like Boyce from Peabody Coal, David Koch, and Rex Tillerson.

    They surrender before putting on their uniforms. Whatever happens will have to come from the ground up, because the Big Green NGO’s have rendered themselves irrelevant.

    Mr. Krupp, I’d be interested in your response to these concerns. And please spare us the lectures about shrillness.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    One other thing – if you want to communicate as in broadcast, do it in such a way that it connects with their first hand perceptions. e.g. a series of ads that start “have you noticed X (Y, Z) happening (more often)? It is going to happen even more often because we have been, and are, changing the climate.” ME

  14. Lewis C says:

    I notice that Krupp makes no mention of Obama’s role in the debacle.

    Given the effective pressure applied to LBJ over Vietman, when the stakes of risking a subsequent GOP presidency (that saw nuclear war as ‘inevitable’) were perceived to be just as high as the stakes today, I have to dissent from the deferential attitude that Obama cannot be expected to change course and start actively promoting the climate issue.

    Without the determined participation of the president, no US climate legislation will have much of a chance. But with his active discouragement, disabling and then outright sabotage of the negotiation process, Obama ensured that the last climate bill failed, and there is no indication at all that he will voluntarily do any better if he wins a second term.

    As the guy in charge, the commander in cheif, Obama is in dereliction of his duty and his oath of office. Massive street level pressure and media critique should be applied to exposing that culpable negligence, thereby allowing a full and open description of the scale, and the urgency, of the global threat we face. The development of that pressure is the only lever available for initiating his effective participation in defence of the climate.

    Krupp of course knows all this, and chooses not to mention it. So is he just hoping for a voluntary change of heart in the AWOL POTUS, or is actually hoping that a more responsible democrat president might somehow get elected in 2016 ? In either case, it needs pointing out that having distant hopes is no substitute for strategy.

    To propose that the shrillness of activists was significant in the bill’s failure places a further questionmark over Krupp’s judgement. It is hard to see a track record of his success that justifies regarding his views as being particularly relevant for forward strategic planning.

    More of the same, but less shrill and more conciliatory, simply won’t do. It is the recipe that has failed lamentably for three decades. It needs to be dumped.



  15. Jeandetaca says:

    Joe is asking for ideas about re engaging the public for action against global warming. Special thank you for Sault comment (nb 7) and the Venus Mercury argument I didn’t know already.
    The idea I propose looks grim, technical and narrow minded. Please take the time to assess it (even if it is in broken english), and I would be gratefull to receive advices from skilled communicators.
    The idea is that the general public doesn’t get that he could have any impact on this issue, and I think this is partly caused by the unit of measure, the CO2 (specially the CO2 ton: who uses a ton of whatever during his life?)!
    Instead of counting the whole CO2, if we count carbon only, we have a very practical correspondance: 1 Carbon Kilo is equivalent to the use of 1 litre of gasoline (the 0,7 kg of carbon in the litre of gasoline must be added with the 0,1 kilo for delivering the gasoline, and 0,2 kilo for building the car, so the total is, roughly, 1 kilo).
    For me it is crystal clear that it is the business lobby that demands the CO2 measure because it is completly disconnected from the reality of our today life.
    O2 depletion is not the problem. Only carbon matters, and each of us can be part of the solution.

  16. Mark says:

    1. I agree with Krupp that people don’t care what you know unless they first know you REALLY care.

    2. Conversely, I disagree because if some people are shrill that makes those saying the same thing in reasonable tones look all that much more

    3. Due to feedbacks like the compost bomb 1990 beltway tactics are fatal. We’re simply out of time.

    4. We desperately need two things:

    (A) Strong white house messaging

    (B) Our own US Academy of Scientists supported semi-permament in the streets encampment. It created the EPA long ago. It worked in Egypt recently. Drs Jim Hansen and Lonnie Thompson are the poster children, and we need a 1000 more willing to take that step too.

    5. The message is
    (A) these nuts voted to deny science and
    (B) a solution is possible and here it is

    Standard lobbying ain’t gonna be enough.

  17. Bob Perkowitz says:

    Title = “EDF’s Fred Krupp on “how we begin to rebuild public support for climate action and the political will to pass climate legislation.”

    “I would echo Krupp’s point that getting public support for climate action (which we were successful in doing, see links below)”

    A bit of inconsistency here.

    [JR: Where is the inconsistency? I have consistently posted the polls that show Americans supported action on climate and clean energy. Their expressed concern about global warming declined, yes, but 1) that was primarily among conservatives and conservative-leaning independents targeted by the disinformation campaign and 2) Gallup itself noted that part of the reason might well be because they were expecting action from a Democratic administration, and, in any case, as Krosnick has shown, people are plenty knowledgeable that failing to act on global warming now would be disastrous.]

    Then there’s the reality that outside of four counties in America, maybe, it’s not safe for politicians to talk about global warming or climate change. Is that ‘public support’?

    [JR: Uhh, maybe it is safe — IF we go by the polling THAT I CITED ABOVE. I’m amazed you’d post such an absurd statement. Even average messaging on climate change works in every blue state and every purple state — and good messaging works in every state.]

    What about other non-Krosnik pollsters who say things like:

    “The key point: At a time of concerted effort by those concerned about climate change to raise Americans’ consciousness about its existence and dire potential consequences, American public opinion on the issue has moved in the exact opposite direction.”
    Frank Newport 
Editor in Chief, The Gallup Poll
 Princeton, N.J., June 11, 2010

    [JR: Gallup’s statement is false. He is a pollster, not someone who follows climate politics closely. There has not been a “concerted effort by those concerned about climate change to raise Americans’ consciousness about its existence and dire potential consequences” in the past two years. That is a laughable statement. There has been a concerted disinformation campaign, however, which you seem happy to ignore.]

  18. I have been a dedicated Climate Progress read for over a year now (maybe 2) — probably reading (or at least skimming) every single article on here in that time. I think this is the first I’ve commented. I’ll give a little more background on myself after responding to the initial questions or calls for discussion by Joe & Fred.

    1) I think, as a few people above noted, what we need more than anything else is people getting into the streets, getting the mainstream media’s eye on the people who will show others how much we NEED climate action now. Direct is needed. Politicians can ignore email campaigns, twitter campaigns, and even blogs as much as they want and hardly feel any pressure. Before I became a blogger a few years ago, despite being a dedicated green, I had never heard of TreeHugger, Climate Progress, Grist, or a number of other major green sites we are all probably very familiar with.

    2) Now, contradicting the point above a little bit (but not really), we need obsessive messaging (that reaches those who don’t think they care about politics) on politicians’ actions when it comes to climate change. These politicians need to be exposed to the public, to their constituents, most of whom probably wouldn’t support them for a second if they knew what they were actually doing. Why is this a semi-contradiction? Because this part does need to be done on blogs and social media/networking sites. People spend a ton of time online now, especially on Facebook and such places. While the ACTION needs to happen outside, where the mainstream media will pick it up, the education needs to happen in people’s comfort zones — which are increasingly online. The work Joe, Think Progress, the Wonk Room, and a handful of progressive blogs do everyday on this front is great. But this needs to spread more and more to other blogs (that might not think this is their jurisdiction), Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Not just abstract discussions, but NAMES (repeatedly, & linked obviously to the actual negative consequences they are creating in their lack of climate action). Most people probably don’t have a clue what their Congressmen are doing in office. They NEED to know.

    3) Combined with that 2nd point, people need to have a better understanding about what climate change practically means for them and their children (& so on). Too many people think this is just about the birds & the trees. I think most of us would be shocked to find out what people actually think climate change will entail. As Joe does so well, we all need to raise our voice about what we are putting ourselves & our children in for: FOOD INSECURITY (Human Suffering & Death), WATER INSECURITY (Human Suffering & Death), RISING SEA LEVELS (pretty clear), ECONOMIC COLLAPSE (due to food & water insecurity and the tremendous costs of natural disasters).


    Now, as I said, a little more on me: I studied environmental studies and sociology for my undergrad degree several years ago, focused very obsessively on how society viewed environmental issues and the direction the environmental movement needed to go in. It has taken the environmental movement 7-8 years now to get to the point I thought it needed to get to at the end of my studies. But think it finally is starting to (barely starting to). I think we are inching into the plan I mentioned above, but only inching.

    I’m now the director of 2 green blogs — and — and write on a number of others. I don’t assume I have all the answers, but working in this capacity too many hours every week (let’s just say it’s my work and my #1 hobby), I think the needs are clear:

    1. Direct Action

    2. Hold Politicians’ Feet to the Fire, Inform their Constituents who “aren’t interested in politics”

    3. Inform people about climate change & how it affects them & their children.

  19. sorry, the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph above should say “DIRECT ACTION is needed.”

  20. madcitysmitty says:

    Joe, I’m surprised by your defense of poll numbers. The polling support is too soft. Our hard-core support is limited.

    Didn’t you write (persuasively,IMO) that probably only 1% of the American public really “gets it”?

    In fact, I’d bet that a majority of the Democratic members of Congress would score higher than 95% of their constituents on any multiple choice test on the science of GW/CC.

    Until a future president speaks the truth, I don’t see that changing much. No one else seems to have the credibility to force the debate. Unfortunately, Obama has decided Jack Nicholson’s character was right about America’s psyche (“Mister, you can’t take the truth.”)