If you want to hear the best progressive messaging on energy and climate — if you want to know the best phrases and framing — look no further than the master messenger in the Oval Office.  Be warned, though, President Obama uses … rhetoric (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“)!

Obama devoted much of his radio address today to the House clean energy and climate bill (text and audio here):

Good morning. Over the past few months, as we have put in place a plan to speed our economic recovery, I have spoken repeatedly of the need to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity; a foundation that will support good jobs and rising incomes; a foundation for economic growth where we no longer rely on excessive debt and reckless risk – but instead on skilled workers and sound investments to lead the world in the industries of the 21st century.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

He is once again hammering home the notion that what we have been doing lo these many years is simply not sustainable (see similar quotes in “Is the U.S. consumption binge over?“).  Kudos for using two rhetorical figures of speech — alliteration and assonance — in the phrase “reckless risk.”  Kudos also for heavy use of the two most important figures in that opening paragraph — metaphor and simple repetition — in the triple use of “foundation.”

Grist relies on the support of generous readers like you. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Visionary leaders and speakers use metaphors, simple as that — in part because metaphors are typically visual images.

Then Obama launched into his specific remarks on the importance of the Waxman-Markey bill and how it represents a coming together of different interests for the first time in US history to address our key energy and climate challenges:


Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Two pillars of this new foundation are clean energy and health care. And while there remains a great deal of difficult work ahead, I am heartened by what we have seen these past few days: a willingness of those with different points of view and disparate interests to come together around common goals – to embrace a shared sense of responsibility and make historic progress.

Chairman Henry Waxman and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee brought together stakeholders from all corners of the country –- and every sector of our economy –- to reach an historic agreement on comprehensive energy legislation.  It’s another promising sign of progress, as longtime opponents are sitting together, at the same table, to help solve one of America’s most serious challenges.

For the first time, utility companies and corporate leaders are joining, not opposing, environmental advocates and labor leaders to create a new system of clean energy initiatives that will help unleash a new era of growth and prosperity.

It’s a plan that will finally reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and cap the carbon pollution that threatens our health and our climate.  Most important, it’s a plan that will trigger the creation of millions of new jobs for Americans, who will produce the wind turbines and solar panels and develop the alternative fuels to power the future.  Because this we know: the nation that leads in 21st century clean energy is the nation that will lead the 21st century global economy. America can and must be that nation – and this agreement is a major step toward this goal.

Note how he leads with health — “carbon pollution that threatens our health and our climate.”  Note how he doesn’t use the generic phrase “renewable energy,” but says wind and solar (see Clean energy messaging 101: ‘Green’ jobs are out, ‘clean energy’ jobs are in).  The word gurus say you shouldn’t use “alternative energy,” but I’m not certain what they say about “alternative fuels.”  Perhaps “clean fuels” would be better, but alternative is at least pretty clearly the alternative to oil.

One of his favorite figure-filled phrases is “the nation that leads in 21st century clean energy is the nation that will lead the 21st century global economy.”  The rest of us would be wise to commit it to memory.

He ends by characterizing this as a team effort (although this team doesn’t happen to include inside-the-Beltway conservatives):

I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk; that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it. This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change. For the calling of this moment is too loud and too urgent to ignore. Our success as a nation –- the future of our children and grandchildren -– depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

This is how progress has always been made. This is how a new foundation will be built. We cannot assume that interests will always align, or that fragile partnerships will not fray. There will be setbacks. There will be difficult days.  But we are off to a good start. And I am confident that we will – in the weeks, months, and years ahead -– build on what we have already achieved and lay this foundation which will not only bring about prosperity for this generation, but for generations to come.


The eco-snipers can (misguidedly) attack this bill as a giveaway to polluters (when it is not — see the excellent press release from Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming here).  Obama sees this instead as longtime opponents working together to solve one of the most complex and challenging problems the nation has ever faced.

Finally, Obama makes clear we simply can no longer focus on our prosperity to the exclusion of our children and grandchildren and generations to come.  That is a Ponzi scheme.

Related Post: