Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Obama and US Climate Change Movement: Who’s the Walrus? Who’s lunch?

Five living Presidents acknowledge the problem and must know that an effective response will demand ‘muscular’ American leadership - at home and globally. Four failed in office and the incumbent is failing too. Yet, the Climate Change Movement is still soft on Barack Obama.

The smartest, best-financed, most theatrical grassroots lobby since Sixties lacks something. The Civil Rights movement made its own mistakes and suffered for those mistakes. But it never outsmarted itself.

That movement didn’t check out its tactics or ambitious demands with Democrat Presidents Kennedy or Johnson. They challenged influential conservatives as well as liberals. There certainly wasn’t a Freedom March on Washington to celebrate Executive Orders and thank either President for their eloquent speeches. Their political savvy didn’t impress but their courage did. 

Climate change is intensifying and its Movement is anxious, a voice of alarm in every public square, explaining the science, naming deniers, and warning Obama that: he sure better do what he’s already signaled he’s comfortable doing.

New York Times explained just last week how Obama’s I’ll Do What I Can Plan can help secure a global agreement that’s less laughable than what’s on paper now:

*His negotiators will aim for a “sweeping” set of commitments from all the significant polluter nations. But it will be an “accord” not one of those clunky treaties that must be ratified by at least 67 votes in the US Senate.

*Implicitly, Congress won’t be asked to provide the US Executive any new tools to make an important difference; for instance, a staged carbon tax or standby tariff on high carbon imports.

Apparently, Obama will coax leaders of burgeoning state-directed economies to reset their priorities, threaten powerful domestic allies, without asking US legislative branches to legislate - without formally binding the next President, let alone the United States of America.

Cute? You bet.

Professional advocates quoted in this front-page story, however, are content; Obama is being “realistic” about his limits. “There’s some legal and political magic to this,” purrs Jake Schmidt, an expert in global climate negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a distinguished Washington environmental lobby.

A smooth leak gently handled by a great liberal newspaper; nothing surprising here.
After all, without the US at the table, there won’t be another UN negotiation. Diplomats, advocates and their media trackers would be stuck in Washington agonizing over another crummy Canadian pipeline.  

Many of us can accept that Obama knows - and likes - what he’s doing. And admire his subtle calculations, if not his soaring speeches.

During this fall’s Congressional elections, Obama Democrats want to brag about America’s fossil fuel boom as well as their support for clean energy - and portray Republicans as anti-science and scarier than the weather.

Moderates within the two national parties, market economists, techno optimists - and most likely Barack Obama - see that significant market changes in the US are already shifting against the dirtiest fossil fuels. So, he favors tweaking regulations that tweak business, leaving noncommittal legislators and consumer at peace.

However, do any of these mitigating explanations have a place in the heads of a radical movement?

Specifically, is it in the interests of the Climate Movement’s transformative vision to accommodate a self-styled lame duck President and his Do What I Can Plan? Is it in its interest to assist the Democratic Party paint Republicans as impossibly hostile to their cause? Is it transformative to help divide Americans along ancient party lines on a profound national responsibility?

Is it progress to accept an evasive legislative strategy that strands moderate Republicans and lets blue Democrats off the hook in Congress?

What’s fascinating about all this is the willingness of the Movement, the champions of an agenda that is determined to change how humankind lives and earns a living, to accept so easily politics as usual.  Surely their radical agenda should only reward and comfort politicians with the nerve and skill to change what’s possible. 

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