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What should Obama say tonight?


So here's the question: If you were Barack Obama, would you push hard for a carbon-pricing bill?

The case for a major campaign is obvious: You believe, as do most people who've studied the issue, that we're courting catastrophe by letting greenhouse gases concentrate in the atmosphere. In some ways, it's similar to the BP spill: A predictable disaster that we might be able to prevent if we start early enough but don't have the technical expertise to reverse if it comes to pass. Moreover, any solution has to be international, and if America doesn't put a price on carbon, there's no chance China and India will put a price on carbon. And then we're really in trouble.

But you sit with your political advisers and they tell you another story. First, the votes just aren't there. Lisa Murkowski signed 47 senators onto her effort to handicap the EPA from doing its job and regulating carbon. Lindsey Graham now says he'll vote against the the climate bill he helped write. Pollsters -- including your own -- have wiped the words "global warming" and "climate change" from their vocabularies. They like the term "carbon pollution," but it's hard to believe that you can do something this difficult if the actual reason you're doing it isn't popular enough to mention.

There's a good chance, your advisers say, that attempting this fight will get you nothing. Actually, it's worse than that: You'll lose seats. You'll show that carbon-pricing is a political loser. It's an election year, so you'll further harden Republican hearts on the issue.

But tonight's the night. It's a big speech. You're good at those. But you also know their limits. So what do you do, Mr. President?

Update: My answer here.

Photo credit: Michael Spooneybarger/AP

By Ezra Klein  |  June 15, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Next: Re: What Obama should say


Go big. I'm the f'ing President. If I can't go big, who the hell can?

Besides which, my pollsters can suck it. The big drain on our team is lack of enthusiasm, not a sudden spawn of new Republicans over the last year and a half, and this is something that energizes my base AND independents that voted Dem in 2008.

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | June 15, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Tell the truth. Weather it works or not there really is no alternative. Besides, would any President want to join Bush in the historic idiot pantheon?
Or Mr.Obama could just check first with Howard Fineman and find out what he should have said.

Posted by: ostrogoth | June 15, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Independents didn't vote for the dems because of climate change, they voted for dems because of the iraq war. They also didn't vote for the dems because of HCR, but the dems don't seem to get it.

Posted by: obrier2 | June 15, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I agree with roquelaure_79. Go big! Also this would be a good time talk with the country about the other challenges we face and reassure people on the economy.

Posted by: wecantpaythattab | June 15, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse


Have you ever considered that maybe the reason pollsters are registering growing skepticism about global warming is because more people have now studied the issue and have concluded that global warming is not caused by humans? It is arrogant of you to think that you are smarter than most people. I only wonder how long it will take you and Al Gore to admit you were wrong about this issue. Maybe when you are 100 and complaining about how cold it is in the winter, you will think back to this time in your life and think "boy, I thought that I was brilliant but now I realize I was young and stupid"

Posted by: cummije5 | June 15, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Given what we have been told about the brief length of the speech, and the several topics he will address, it will be a suprise if he goes "big."

But here's hoping Obama tears up the playbook, steps away from the political advisers and the focus groups, and opts for a national turning point and some real Presidential leadership.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 15, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

This is what President Obama should say:

"What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don't like, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans. "

Those exact words were uttered by Jimmy Carter on July 15, 1976. Nothing has changed. The President should invite Carter back to look at Americans and utter those dreaded words - I TOLD YOU SO!

Posted by: SilasKain | June 15, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

... cold really has nothing to do with it cummije5. Taking the term Global Warming (which is outdated btw) too literally is the signal of someone who hasn't researched his position.

Predicting the future is hard, and few of us will look back at this point in time without some kind of regret.

Pollsters worry about politics, not science, and the science still says you're wrong.

Posted by: akusu | June 15, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

He could call for an all out effort to increase the efficiency of our energy use. Or he could call for an all out effort to increase the capacity of alternative energy sources.

Or he could call for a carbon tax which would accomplish both of the first two options at the same time. And it would "internalize" the massive destructive externalities in what consumers pay for energy right now.

So the question then becomes; at what point does the political resistance to the facts on the ground become irrelevant. You either do what has to be done or or you let the opponents to progress take responsibility for the consequences. And we all suffer.

The alternative is to muddle through half-measures that solve nothing and continue to produce political stalemate. And we all suffer.

There are no good choices.

Posted by: BobFred | June 15, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

America is a great country in part becuase of our ability to leverage our technology to conquer the riches of our planet. This has in part given us a wonderous standard of living. Today we are reaping the efects of our arrogance about technology. We sometimes go to far to fast. Techology will solve this problem. Regulation derived from this hard earned lesson will prevent a reoccurance. Tonight I am here to tell you that industry will pay for independent and rigourous regulation. Government will play its role. The people and their interests will be protected from the excesses and hubris of industry and technology.

Posted by: goldandyonker | June 15, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Aw, Ezra! You've really made it now. You've attracted your own cadre of right-wing trolls.

*sigh* Bloggers grow up so fast...

*wipes tear, sniff*

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | June 15, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

@roquelaure_79: "Aw, Ezra! You've really made it now. You've attracted your own cadre of right-wing trolls."

Hey! I've been here for years.

I, too, hope Obama goes big. Like, super-crazy-make-Glenn-Beck-wet his pants big.

And announces a new summer "climate camp" to help educate deniers. That would make Beck's head explode.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 15, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Man, Kevin, I really wish that Obama would put on a fake Hitler 'stache for April Fool's Day one year. It would offend just about everyone, and make every Tea Party person's head explode, but I would be rolling on the floor and wetting my pants from laughter.

Posted by: MosBen | June 15, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Go big? Not.

15 minute speech, trying to hit a lot of notes about the immediate effort to manage the crisis, and probably only the most vague outline of the need for new energy policy:

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 15, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

"In some ways, it's similar to the BP spill: A predictable disaster that we might be able to prevent if we start early enough but don't have the technical expertise to reverse if it comes to pass."

But, of course, federal regulations have been in place to prevent and respond to the predictable disaster -- and taxpayer dollars have been spent -- for many years. One aspect of any policy enthusiasm has to recognize the role of the federal government (including the Obama Administration itself) in the current disaster. Without the mea culpa, any words from the President will simply fall short.

This week or next, the President will also have to explain why a deficit-increasing statute is needed to help pay (albeit laundered through states) for the so-called deficit-reducing PPACA. Perhaps by admitting failure now, the next few blows will be easier, particularly if some coherent and plausible plan is outlined.

Finally, talk of charging BP up-front for potential crimes is dangerous and should be avoided: we would never tolerate sending an individual Senator to a debtor's prison, without trial, just because he made a bad decision which might be costly... so why afford BP any lesser degree of liberty and justice?

The three points: acceptance of blame, presentation of coherent & plausible plan, assurance of liberty and rule of law. Then throw "carbon" in there a few times to placate the greenies, shake well, and serve.

Posted by: rmgregory | June 15, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

"I hearby resign as President of the United States, effective immediately."

- Barry the incompetent boob Obama

Posted by: screwjob16 | June 15, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

The only thing the growing majority of Americans want to hear Comrade Leader and
El Presidente for life,Generalissmo,Head Golfer,No Military Service Commander in Chief of our US Military Liar and Loser
Barack Hussein Obama say,is " I have failed
all of you miserabley and I have returned the $ One Million Dollars Bribe that BP
gave,disguised as a Presidential Campaign
Contribution and I Admit Iam a fraud,a liar,not even a US Citizen,have commited all sorts of High Crimes and Misdeamnors
and I Resign Immediately As President and
Will Plead Guilty To All Criminal Charges
Brought Against me forthwith."

Posted by: Jan1977 | June 15, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

What Obama should say? "I resign"!

Posted by: madmike272 | June 15, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

The worst thing this president could do tonight is to turn this oil disaster, which he has failed at handling miserably, into another 'shove it down your throat' $Trillion Dollar sham on climate change kung-fu. That would damn his credibility completely.

Posted by: prossers7 | June 15, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Obama keeps talking about corruption, not about his own corruption or the corruption of SEIU and his UNION thugs, but his opposing party's supposed corruption.

Never, never in the history of the presidency of this country have we had to endure a loser for a president who could do nothing but attempt to build himself up by throwing mud on anyone who opposes him. That's not a leader, that is the quality of a street fighter, no qualification for the presidency of the United States of America. If he wants to act like Chavez, maybe he should relocate, now.

Posted by: prossers7 | June 15, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Ah, poor Ezra. Still hoping for the Great Society 2. I'm not "enlightened" enough to understand how taxing carbon and spending extra money subsidizing energy sources that don't meet demand actually reduce global warming?

Obama is not a leader. He will assign blame, whine about how it was Bush's fault, make some false claim that he will get legislation to lower our dependence on oil, then do the opposite.

Posted by: timbruce1 | June 16, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

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