G20: What’s wrong with mentioning climate change?

President Barack Obama sent me an email last week. It’s not unusual, as he’s been doing it for six years now, ever since he ran for the White House and won.
I’ve voted for Barack Obama twice now, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic National Committee, and Organizing for Action (OFA), have been sending emails to party supporters like myself … myriad emails on behalf of the Congressional candidates in the recent midterm elections.
I don’t mind, even when they ask for money I don’t have, because the Republicans have always had more money. All’s fair in love and war and politics.
But I was extremely disappointed, as was the President and the party faithful when the Democrats lost control of the Senate, and the Republicans now have the majority in both houses of Congress. The President hasn’t had a great year – glitches in Obamacare, still the most important part of his legacy; some hesitancy in the management of the Ebola crisis; and more hesitancy in how to handle ISIS, after his staff played down the threat of the Islamic State. But unemployment has fallen to a six-year low of 5.8 per cent; 214,000 new jobs were created last month; and President Obama and the Democrats are still fighting for equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, reining in corporate polluters, curbing Wall Street excess, and protecting the voting rights of minorities.
A few months ago, Barack Obama admitted the Republicans’ cynical strategy was working: “There has been a certain cynical genius to what some of these folks have done in Washington. What they’ve realised is, if we don’t get anything done, then people are going to get cynical about government and its possibilities of doing good for everybody. And since they don’t believe in government, that’s a pretty good thing. And the more cynical people get, the less they vote. And if turnout is low and people don’t vote, that pretty much benefits those who benefit from the status quo.”
But, of course, it wasn’t just a cynical strategy, but a growing number of Americans who wanted the President to be another Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who could rally the troops and had a united country behind him. Barack Obama inherited high unemployment and low consumer confidence when he took office in January 2009. Here’s what he said in his email: “I want you to remember that we’re making progress. There are workers who have jobs today who didn’t have them before. There are millions of families who have health insurance today who didn’t have it before. There are kids going to college today who didn’t have the opportunity to go to college before. So don’t get cynical, Tom. Cynicism didn’t put a man on the moon. Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or built a business, or fed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice. And hope will always be a better choice.”
Okay, Mr President, in spite of being a long-time journalist, I’ll try not to be cynical. But here’s one thing I’d like you to do for me. Keep making speeches like the one you gave at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. I was watching it as it was beamed in live to my office at Channel Nine. It was an inspiring performance, starting with a mini-autobiography and working up to a stirring climax: “If there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as one American family: E pluribus unum, out of many, one. Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there is the United States of America.” I said out loud to no one in particular: “Barack Obama is going to be the president one day.” I wasn’t the only one. Clarence Page, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of the Chicago Tribune, wrote: “A superstar is born. It is difficult for many of us to contain our enthusiasm, yet we must try. We owe that to him. We should not reward his blockbuster performance last week at the Democratic National Convention by loading his shoulders with the fate of the nation. Not yet, anyway. That can wait, perhaps until, say, his 2012 Presidential campaign?”
Well, Clarence was more cautious than most of the pundits, and I also thought it would take Barack Obama until 2012 to become president. But after the re-election of George W. Bush and the defeat of John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama was fast-tracked by the Democrats, and became the first African-American president in the historic 2008 election.
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I think he’s done a better job than George W. Bush, and he’s certainly raised the bar for US presidents travelling abroad. His performance at the G20 Summit in Brisbane at the weekend proved he can still deliver a great speech. He allegedly “shirt-fronted” Tony Abbott by ignoring the host’s hopes that the summit would focus on the global economy, and not global warming. But Barack Obama has long been a supporter of action against climate change. Perhaps Tony Abbott and his party were more upset with the cheering by students at the University of Queensland (photo at top of post) when the President put climate change on the agenda: “As we focus on our economy, we cannot forget the need to lead on the global fight against climate change … I know there’s been a healthy debate in this country about it. Here in the Asia-Pacific, nobody has more at stake when it comes to thinking about and then acting on climate change.”
Barack Obama has charisma; Tony Abbott does not. I’m not having a go at our prime minister, just stating the facts. The Australian Financial Review’s respected political editor Laura Tingle said the president gave Tony Abbott a lesson in power on how to set and control an agenda. http://bit.ly/1yQo33P
Okay, as mentioned above, the president hasn’t had a great year, but he doesn’t deserve this bit of criticism from The Australian’s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan. He claimed that Barack Obama blindsided the Abbott government in Brisbane “pretty viciously. Through his remarks on climate change, he has damaged the government politically.” Those comments, to which Sheridan is entitled, are definitely over the top, but he went further: “The damage may not be long lasting because the US President’s remarks bore little relation to anything he can deliver or will do. Instead, they reprise the most ineffably capricious and inconsequential moments in the Obama presidency: grand gestures, soaring visions; which never actually get implemented in the real world.” (Unless you are a subscriber to The Australian or wish to become one, the following link will not work. Sorry.) http://bit.ly/1Af9ScZ
Whew! Greg Sheridan was also critical of Gough Whitlam’s soaring visions, but I think Gough inspired a generation of Australians, including me, and Barack Obama has also inspired many young Americans, and young Australians. Just listen to these vox pops of students after the president’s speech.
Sophia Aston, 17, from Mt St Michael’s College in Brisbane, told the ABC she admired the president’s appeal to young people: “I’m really interested in law and human rights, and potentially politics, so it was really inspiring to me. It’s nice to realise there is potential and they have the capacity to support us – it makes the world seem a lot smaller.” (http://ab.co/1xccsxZ)
Another high school student, Lily Treston, 17, also praised the speech: “I think for us it will help us finish the year with a very positive message. For young women to hear from such an influential person about how we can have a better and brighter world for our gender and generation was inspirational.”
I would walk an extra mile to hear Barack Obama speak; and sometimes Tony Abbott states the bleeding obvious as he did when he addressed the world leaders at the beginning of the summit, complaining about his inability to get Australians to pay a $7 doctor fee, and bragging about repealing the carbon tax.
Robyn Dixon of the Los Angeles Times was critical of the Prime Minister for being parochial when he was striding the world stage: “The Group of 20 summit could have been Australia’s moment, signalling its arrival as a global player, some here argued. But in all, the summit had Australians cringing more than cheering.” http://on-msn.com/1yaDEeI
But Tony Abbott probably doesn’t care. After signing an historic Free Trade Agreement with China, he told a special sitting of parliament (to hear an address by Chinese President Xi Jinping): “We trade with people when we need them; we invest with people when we trust them.” Greg Sheridan continued his onslaught on Barack Obama: “A US president comes to Australia with the specific intention of damaging the Australian government politically on climate change, while a Chinese president comes here with nothing but gifts. Xi Jinping’s accomplished, well-considered speech to parliament yesterday contained no references to climate change and no implicit criticism of Australia … The contrast with Barack Obama was staggering.” http://bit.ly/1wUKHWL
I wonder what President Obama did to Greg Sheridan to treat him like an enemy – “specific intention of damaging the Australian government” – he must be a mind-reader as well. Did he ever consider that the US President actually believes it’s time to fight global climate change? In fact, Mr Obama signed an agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas pollution last Wednesday, and, of course, the Republicans, led by the new House majority leader, Mitch McConnell, attacked the President, denying that climate change was a problem. But Mr Abbott, when it comes to trust, who would you trust first – the Chinese or the US Government? Oh, that’s right, you believe the Chinese president promised China would be fully democratic by 2050. Unfortunately, as the authoritative New York Times blog, Sinosphere, pointed out, Mr Xi made no such promise. He has a different definition of democracy. http://nyti.ms/1tc39Yz
It will be a long and possibly painful two years for the Democrats until the presidential election, but I sincerely hope Barack Obama continues his campaign against climate change, as well as fighting for Obamacare, trying to make sure millions of Americans get access to health insurance. In another email last week the president appealed to Democrats to get involved: “If it’s raising the minimum wage for hard-working Americans or fixing our broken immigration system that fires you up, I need you to stand up for it. If it’s gun violence prevention, speak out. If it’s marriage equality, or women’s rights, or getting serious about fighting climate change, your voice is needed like never before.”
Barack Obama might be a lame-duck president, but I doubt that he will act like one. I think he will fight for the issues he believes in – and if he can persuade a Republican Congress to work with him, he will leave quite a legacy.
UPDATE: The Sydney Morning Herald reports: After talks with the French President Francois Hollande in Canberra, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called on countries to set strong binding emissions reductions targets at next year’s major climate conference in Paris.
And after years of arguing that Australia should only move faster once major polluters also moved, Mr Abbott has now described climate change as “an important subject” and one “the world needs to tackle as a whole.” He must have been listening to President Obama’s speech last Saturday. http://bit.ly/1qu9OD0

2 thoughts on “G20: What’s wrong with mentioning climate change?

  1. Hey Tom, Couldn’t agree with you more. Love to you and yours, Cold up north.

    PS: I knew the Obama was destined for Pres with that Dem convention speach.

    Elizabeth K Keech PhD, RNHey Assistant Professor College of Nursing Villanova University 610 519 4912 ________________________________

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