Obama the Formulaic
Part of President Obama’s great promise was always in his (still essentially unproven) ability to translate his charisma into major policy achievements. But, at this point, his rhetoric isn’t only formulaic -- it’s becoming obviously so.
Consider the president’s speech this morning at a U.N. climate change summit. He began, of course, with the Alarming Warning: Unless the world confronts climate change, “we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”
He continued with the Unrealistic, Rhetorically Jarring Qualification:
Yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that ‘Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.’
Except, of course, when they become “irreversible.”
Next, the Touting of Baldly Inadequate “Progress” Already Made:
I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history…
Most importantly, the House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward.
Then, the Recapitulation of How Difficult Actually Solving the Problem Is:
As we head towards Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us. We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation's most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work.
And, finally, The Signature Obama Moment:
We also cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress....
We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together. There's no other way.
As when he extols the virtues of bipartisanship, Obama is right about the need for collective effort. And in his drive to achieve that, he walks back and forth across the line between reality and hope, a rhetorical strategy that he has used for years. But, as we have seen over the last couple of weeks, he is exploring the extreme limits of thusly employed rhetoric and charisma to advance his causes.
Indeed, in the realm of climate change, hope and reality seem awfully far apart. Without more on the table from the U.S., the chances that this formulation will convince developing countries to reduce their foot-dragging on climate change are slimmer than those of convincing Mitch McConnell to vote for a Democratic health-reform bill (pretty slim). In fact, in the transactional world of international politics, it’s unlikely he can even convince developed countries to get on board with much tougher curbs when already compromised climate-change legislation is stalled in the Senate awaiting further dilution.
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