Cross-posted from the Wonk Room

This afternoon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, President Obama challenged the nation to explore the “new frontiers” of the “clean energy economy of tomorrow.” He praised Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for working on legislation to make our energy system “more efficient, far cleaner, and provide energy independence for America.” But Obama challenged critics “whose interest or ideology run counter to the much needed action,” saying the status quo “endangers our prosperity” and the “only purpose” of those who question climate science “is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary”:

The naysayers, the folks who would pretend that this is not an issue, they are being marginalized. But I think it’s important to understand that the closer we get, the harder the opposition will fight and the more we’ll hear from those whose interest or ideology run counter to the much needed action that we’re engaged in. There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy — when it’s the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs. There are going to be those who cynically claim — make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary. So we’re going to have to work on those folks.

Following the speech, the Wonk Room asked Obama why such critics accuse the President of socialism. Obama replied:

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You know, it’s hard to say. Maybe if you have an answer to that, you’ll let me know.

Watch it:

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Among the critics of President Obama’s clean energy agenda who say it will destroy the economy are Glenn Beck, Marc Morano, Fox News, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), and even Democratic candidate for the governor of Virginia, Creigh Deeds. Beck believes the White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner is a socialist. Morano, Inhofe’s former blogger, argued limits on global warming pollution is the “biggest threat to freedom” at the Accuracy in Media conference today. Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer calls the regulation “cap and tax.” Inhofe warns of a “global tax” from the United Nations. And Deeds is now running ads claiming the “cap-and-trade bill” would “hurt the people” of Virginia.

The reason Obama’s critics accuse him of socialism is because, for reasons of “interest or ideology,” they support a system of economic inequity based on an unsustainable fossil-fuel economy. The current system has reaped great rewards for the ultra-wealthy and the industrial polluters at the expense of the health and welfare of their fellow Americans. To avoid blame for their malfeasance, they must paint Obama as the villain, and his essential reform agenda as even scarier than the status quo, with language that taps into the darkest fears of the American public.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also shot back at critics today, although he criticized current legislation:

Global climate change is not a religion to me but I do believe carbon pollution is harmful to the environment and I want to find a way to fix that problem. But it’s got to be good business. None of the bills in the House or the Senate right now are good business. They would really hurt manufacturing and they would hurt rate payers …

If you don’t control carbon people are going to keep building coal-fired plants. You have to make carbon emissions such that it’s worth your time to invest in wind, solar, and nuclear. I think carbon controls can be reasonably had without disrupting our economy.