Month 2, Day 27: If It’s Saturday, It Must Be POTUS

Now that we’re all done with HCR, and all that remains is to wait for April and a reconciliation vote (and to keep calling your Democratic congresscritters to make sure they won’t keep capitulating to the threat of a threat of a threat from some Republican somewhere) — well, it’s time for the President to kick a little butt on climate issues.

I only wish I were as sanguine about this as I was a year ago, shortly after the inauguration. This letter shows some of the erosion in confidence I have experienced.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on the success of your meticulously prepared Health Care Summit. You demonstrated a thorough command of the issues as well as a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of patience. A political opposition that cares more about ensuring the failure of your administration than about the well-being of the country must be a source of considerable exasperation.

I’m afraid that Health Care Reform is going to be the easy part of your agenda to enact. The problems with passing a meaningful and robust climate bill are manifold and more widespread. Those of us who are at least marginally competent in interpreting basic science know that the climate crisis presents the gravest threat humanity has ever faced. We also know that the windows of opportunity are closing rapidly; as the planet races from tipping point to tipping point, the “worst-case” predictions of climatologists from a few years ago are the “best-case” predictions of today. We need to act; we need to act strongly; we need to act immediately.

Unfortunately, a significant proportion of the American public doesn’t even believe global warming exists. When the pronunciamenti of corporate-funded denialists are given national platforms by an irresponsible media, the climate crisis intersects with an ignorance crisis to create a perfect storm. Mother Nature isn’t helping; snowstorms in Washington, DC form the perfect context for Senator Inhofe’s inanities, which fit perfectly with our aggravated case of national ADD.

When you were elected, environmentalists were delighted. We felt that at last we had a president who was ready to embrace science, to advocate for a reality-based energy and climate policy, and who would not back down in the face of opposition from the Coal and Oil Industries. The past year has seen much progress in environmental issues; more of it through the application of Executive Orders than through bicameral legislation. But as the stage is set for climate legislation, there are a number of troubling signs in the way you and your team handled Health Care Reform.

1. You gave away your strongest negotiating position before you even started. If you and the Democrats had been advocating for Single Payer health care, you could have been negotiated down to a Public Option. Instead, what we have left is a bill that has been watered down repeatedly by acquiescence to Republican demands; while better than nothing, it is much weaker than it needs to be. This cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

2. You allowed the opposition to define the terms of debate. Your administration’s passivity during most of 2009 may have been based on your desire to have the Senate re-assume its rightful place in our system of government — but by now it should be evident to anyone that our Senate is hopelessly dysfunctional. The Republicans and the Tea-Baggers dominated the national media, and it was clear that your team was unprepared for the sheer lunacy of their assault. This cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

3. You allowed your desire for “bi-partisanship” to overwhelm your desire for a bill that really did the best thing for the American people. Watching Senate committees exclude single-payer advocates and bend to the whims of Olympia Snowe has profoundly demoralized your Democratic base (unlike the Republican base, we actually pay more attention to policy than politics). Watching Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership capitulate preemptively to the threat that a Republican might make a threat has destroyed any confidence among your liberal and progressive admirers that Democrats can be counted on to stand up for our beliefs. That cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

Your Health Care Summit Conference was a tremendous success. Now what’s needed is a full-bore campaign to educate the public about the need for strong and urgent action to mitigate the worst effects of the looming climate crisis. There is no time to waste. Please make plans for a Climate Summit. Engage experts to testify, but don’t expect to change many Republican minds. They genuinely would rather see the planet perish in a Venusian pressure-cooker than allow you and your administration any successes whatever.

If you wait for them to come to their senses before trying to get a bill passed, we will still be waiting in 2016 and in 2020. We’ll still be waiting when gigatonnes of arctic methane have entered the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect has spiraled completely out of control. Get a strong bill passed, and once it’s done, a few of them (and a few coal-state Democrats, too) may realize that it was the right thing to do.

If we fail in this, the failure will be all humanity’s. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

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