The focus on the idea of change, the rhetoric that made The Audacity of Hope a common phrase, have all set the stage for the possibility that the next four years will be markedly different from the past 16, the time of the Baby Boomer Presidents, the first in a long time who new not the depth of the Great Depressions or the pain and common purpose of WW II.
I have a sense that most Greens expect Obama to fail. Some, unfortunately, see to want him to fail and in that they separate themselves from the vast majority of the American Public. A majority of Republicans who voted for McCain in the last election, who supported 'W' through two terms, still want Obama to succeed. The consequences of his failure would be the failure of these United States, a sign that we are so divided that we can no longer hope for achieving common goals.
Those of us who see problems with the policies of the Obama Administration must continue to articulate our misgivings, but do it in such a manner as to address the policies, not the persona. When Tavis Smiley berated Obama for not attending his State of the Black Union Forum, it backfired on Smiley and may have even helped Obama with other voters by showing that he was not pandering to the Black community.
The list of potential policy mistakes is long, and getting longer every day. Let me list a few.
Economic Stimulus: The Obama team is loaded with heavyweight economists. Most, Summers, Rubin, et. al. came from the Clinton Administration. That was when the seeds of our current problems were sown. The total unraveling of our financial regulations began then under the advice of the same people and the sainted Alan Greenspan. The media calls the massive government spending to stimulate a "Keynesian" action. Steve Loebs thinks that falls far short of being a true Keynesian prescription for what ails us. [Steve makes the 4th comment on this economist's blog.]
If Steve is right we will see a loss of confidence in the ability of government to change the current economic direction, which continues downward. The US economy is based on retail sales and consumerism. As more stores close, and more people lose their jobs, bailing out the financial system only treats the symptoms of our disease. This weekend the second largest electronics chain of stores, Circuit City, started liquidation sales and another 34,000 will lose their jobs.
Global Warming: Time after time, the Obama administration has called attention to the problems of Global Warming as the signature problem of our time, the problem by which future generations will measure our wisdom. Yet, his solutions seem calculated to not disturb the fragile economy rather than to give us the possibility of future.
George Bush believed that Bob Watson was too "alarmist" on Global Warming to function as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and maneuvered to have Dr. Rajendra Pachauri replace him. Dr. Pachauri wrote a challenging introduction to the State of the World 2009 report from the WorldWatch Institute.
The strongest message from State of the World 2009 is this: if the world does not take action early and in adequate measure, the impacts of climate change could prove extremely harmful and overwhelm our capacity to adapt. At the same time, the costs and feasibility of mitigation of GHG emissions are well within our reach and carry a wealth of substantial benefits for many sections of society. Hence, it is essential for the world to look beyond business as usual and stave off the crisis that faces us if we fail to act.So far, I do not get the impression the Obama Administration has this level of urgency, being satisfied with cosmetic surgery when the patient needs a heart transplant. Dr. Pachauri commented that Obama's goals are not aggressive enough.
President-elect Obama’s goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 falls short of the response needed by world leaders to meet the challenge of reducing emissions to levels that will actually spare us the worst effects of climate change.The implications of these two potential policy failures will play out over the coming years. Even before taking office, Obama is often compared to Abraham Lincoln. He has certainly emulated Lincoln in choosing to build his cabinet as a a Team of Rivals. Let us hope he also emulated Lincoln's pragmatism of continuing to change strategy, and generals, until such time as he found one that delivered success.
Carol Browner is to be the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate. She was interviewed by the Washington Post's Lois Romano and at no time during this interview did I sense that she had the requisite sense of urgency. When she talked about a doubling of renewables I was convinced she meant more ethanol in our gasoline and that will not accomplish what we need.
Even in the last days of the Bush Administration, filled as they are with last minute rule changes on behalf of energy special interests, we note that the the US Climate Change Science Program produced a new environmental report that indicated just how high the cost might be. Today's New York Times summarizes it.
The rise in sea level is accelerating, the report said, because warmer water occupies more space and because of runoff from melting inland glaciers and ice sheets. The Middle Atlantic States are particularly vulnerable because the rates of rise are “moderately high” there, the region is subject to storms, it is densely populated and much of its infrastructure is in low-lying areas.
On both of these interlocked issues, economic recovery and global warming, Greens have yet to articulate an effective alternative set of policies to those projected on the public by an administration more adept at political calculus than producing the proper policies. We need to recognize that the costs of non-action or too timid action will be unbearable high and that the poorest will be the ones to suffer the most.
We must convene something more official than an ad hoc committee to begin articulating an alternative vision, one where hope is replaced with accomplishment and every person is afforded the same rights as our largest corporations.