Could Obama Help Sell Energy Reform Even If He Wanted To?


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Those who've long waited for climate and clean energy legislation to make its way out of the Senate are nervously watching the days tick away before the November elections -- wherein the prospect of lost Democratic seats will make it much harder to seriously reform US energy policy and address climate change. As the bill has mutated, been abandoned, picked up again, weakened, and brought back to the drawing board (not necessarily in that order), the way forward is now thoroughly unclear. Many green groups feel that the presidents should get more involved. But how exactly he should do that -- and whether it would even be a good idea -- is another story altogether. This report from Politico outlines the attitudes of a couple of the many different players in the ongoing debate, noting that "Many environmental activists want Obama to take even more ownership of the climate bill, especially as Democratic leaders in the Senate struggle to find 60 votes amid calls from moderate Democrats and Republicans for a scaled-back energy bill."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also wants the White House to come on board more vocally and vehemently:

Reid, who has repeatedly said that he needs the White House to become more engaged, will huddle Thursday with the Democratic Caucus as he tries to find a path for floor debate, perhaps as early as next week.

"I think it's pretty clear we have to do something," Reid told reporters last month. "The question is what do we do. Now a lot of that depends on what the White House is going to do to help us get something done."

The unfortunate truth is that I'm not sure how much Obama's rallying for clean energy reform would help at the moment -- his poll numbers are lower than ever, and other polls have found that he still hasn't successfully convinced the American people that the bills that he's passed (stimulus, health care, financial reform -- all of which were part of his presidential campaign platform, by the way) were worth passing.

A New York Times news analysis ran a week back arguing that Obama had turned out to be the opposite of many people's expectations -- an effective legislator but a lousy salesman. The point is, with so many people disapproving of Obama at the moment, his stumping for energy reform may have little effect on its chances of passage. Few swing senators seem likely to be swayed by Obama's silver tongue at this point, with the GOP readying its 'Energy Tax' slogans if need be.

For the record, I hope that he does start making the case publicly -- arguments about curbing dependence on fossil fuels and securing a cleaner energy future should be hard to ignore right now. Those points should become part of the public discourse. But at this point, I'm not convinced Obama can sell anything worth passing on the climate and clean energy front.

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