|Too little to show for all that hope? (Photo by Jotman shows Obama at the G20)|
Regardless of what some of his brainwashed opponents on the right say, the election of Barack Obama did not mark the beginning of any revolution -- socialist or otherwise. Although Obama has taken the rough edges off the George W. Bush view of the world, the policies are not markedly different. On issue after issue, the country's trajectory has scarcely budged an inch. Offshore drilling? Obama supported it -- at least until the spill (more on that bellow). Escalate the war in Afghanistan? Obama did that. Close Guantanamo? Obama dithers about where to locate the replica. Reform education? Obama merely recycled NCLB. Stem the country's declining infrastructure? Eight billion for rail won't cut it. Curtail the influence of corporate lobbyists? Not a chance. And then there's the economy.
Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, writing in an op/ed last week, assured a country facing record unemployment that the economy is looking up (which it has been lately, if you ignore the prospects for job growth). Knowing that the Geithner's priority is to "cut the deficit over the next few years" tells you all you need to know about the administration's commitment to a jobs recovery. Paul Krugman, responding to the op/ed, wrote:
Here’s the reality: the stimulus was too small; we’re not seeing growth at a pace that will bring unemployment down rapidly, if at all; we clearly should be doing more; but obstructionism from Republicans is preventing action. And the administration knows all this perfectly well.The administration is reluctant to tell the truth, despite the fact that the other party could be held to account by it.
Meanwhile, July proved to have been the hottest month in recorded US history (worldwide, June was the hottest June on record). While people sweated in the heat, they learned that the Gulf of Mexico was experiencing the world's worst accidental oil spill ever. The high cost of America's unsustainable dependency on fossil fuels had -- at long last -- been exposed in a singularly catastrophic event. And there was more to come. Now Russia is on fire. Pakistan is drowning. Drought endangers crops from North America to Europe. It appears as if famine and the political unrest it brings may be in store for next year. Moreover, all these events can be linked to climate change. The summer of 2010 is a veritable environmental 9/11. And what has the most powerful man in the world had to say about any of this?
Given that corporate special interests have the political process tied up in knots, positive change in the direction of the country -- and the world as a whole -- probably depends upon a US president who is wise enough to turn a crisis into an opportunity. That's why this missed opportunity is a tragedy. One is reminded of another president and another missed opportunity: the Bush who famously told Americans to "go shopping" in aftermath of 9/11. At the very least a modern president needs to use a great crisis to bring credibility to new ideas or approaches. As I documented on this blog -- here, here, and here -- and live on Twitter, during his most important speech on the worst environmental disaster in American history, Obama not only failed to implore Congress to pass a carbon tax (or its equivalent), he failed to speak out forcefully on behalf of the need for environmental protection more generally. Case in point: instead of introducing the country to environmental science and ecology, Obama spoke about the crisis almost exclusively terms of its impact on the economy and appealed to religious faith. Obama has not proved willing to use his position to advance ideas big enough for the times. Obama could have used his bully pulpit to rouse the people to lobby Congress to pass a bill mandating a carbon tax. Even the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell has called upon the US to pass such a measure quickly. But Obama won't push hard for it.
This summer as whole ecosystems edge nearer to collapse, the world is stuck with an American president who will not risk failure.