Obama's State of the Union: what he should say but won't
Photo: The White HouseIf you’re looking to capture the grim political zeitgeist of the moment, you could do worse than this ‘graph from The New York Times:
Each side is trying to gain the upper hand in the spending debate. Where Republicans campaigned on a theme of deep reductions in federal spending, calling for $100 billion in cuts this fiscal year alone, Mr. Obama is trying to sell the public a more nuanced, gradual approach.
The “upper hand,” apparently, lies in embracing the transcendent need to cut public spending during a recession in the face of contrary advice from virtually every economist not on the Koch dole. Only more gradually.
That’s the environment in which Obama will deliver his State of the Union, at least as it appears from the press’s vantage point up the Beltway’s arse. Given that framing going in, I expect very little. I just hope Obama’s finally given up on the notion that policy concessions will prompt Republicans to “meet in the middle.” They understand in a way he’s been slow to grasp that we live in post-truth politics. They desire above all to make him a one-term president and will do or say whatever’s necessary to that end, no matter what he does.
The prospects for decent federal legislation in the next two years are … dim. And by dim I mean you need special instruments to detect them. The best climate hawks can expect from Obama for the next two years are 1) that he defend current law, in particular EPA’s regulatory authority, and 2) that he get reelected. (The alternative being not Michael Bloomberg or Ralph Nader but one of these folks.) The practical political imperative is to show that the two are not in tension — that public health laws are popular and supporting them is a political winner.
In my happy place, where people like windy, nerdy speeches, here’s what Obama would say tomorrow:
We can and must compromise on the best way to meet the nation’s challenges, but we can not and will not make science another game of who has the loudest microphone. America boasts the world’s leading scientists, many of whom were on my Presidential Task Force on Climate Change, many more of whom are members of the National Academy of Sciences, virtually all of whom find that climate disruption is a serious and urgent problem. Until there is credible reason to doubt American scientists and scientific institutions, I plan to accept their findings.
For that reason, I plan to vigorously defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to implement reasonable measures to reduce climate pollution. As the agency carries on with the work of the Clean Air and Water Acts, some of the most successful and cost-effective public health programs in the nation’s history, I will veto any bill that attempts to take them backwards.
When we make our people healthier and our industries more efficient, we make our economy stronger. There is no conflict between clean air and prosperity. They are complements, each a measure of America’s strength and confidence.
Obama will, of course, say nothing of the sort. I’d consider any mention of climate change a miracle, an explicit defense of EPA a sign of the eschaton. Hell, I’m just hoping he won’t offer to weaken Social Security.
Get Grist in your inbox