Image: Why Obama’s Second Inaugural Was Not A ‘Far Left’ Speech, In One Graphic
I, like many of you, was pleased to hear President Barack Obama mention climate change during his inauguration address. Because this issue, this crisis, has been ignored for so long, the mere mention of the words climate or global warming by the President is taken as some sort of political victory. But, to use the cliche, actions do speak louder than words. A strongly delivered paragraph won't keep oil in the ground and carbon out of our skies. I believe President Obama is genuine in his desire to address this problem, but policy changes on the scale required will have to go through Congress. That is where we come in.
Andrew Sullivan made a point today that I've made here before. He was writing about the drug war and whether Obama will address that global crisis during his second term and framed the question in the context of the gay rights movement and the many successes it has achieved during the past four years. Writes Sullivan:
For all those of you who would love to see the corner turned on marijuana as it just has on marriage, I have just a few words: Make. Him. Do. It. With passion, anger, relentless - but above all, by reason and conversation with your fellow citizens.(Emphasis mine.)
Make him do it. That is the key.
Learning from the gay rights movement is something I have written about extensively in the past. I made this same argument regarding environmentalists needing to learn from the gay rights movement back in December of 2011, when the Republicans were sorting out who would be their Presidential nominee.
If you recall, at the time it seemed every major Republican vying for the nomination was being filmed having to explain their anti-equality views. These responses would often become news and the issue of gay rights was amplified and put into the spotlight for a moment. Gay rights activists knew that these Republicans were not on their side, but by getting them on the record struggling to explain their bigotry, this questioning likely reached moderates in favor of equality, while also helping to create a political environment in which Obama and Democrats were able to set themselves apart from the Republicans and reaffirm their support for equality, while also scoring political points with an influential constituency.
Later, after Obama came out as a supporter of gay marriage, I wrote about how gay rights activism led to that moment:
Had they not pressured Obama to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, yesterday may not have happened. Had they not challenged the parade of Republican presidential candidates on their bigotry, yesterday wouldn't have happened. By spotlighting the anti-gay views of his opposition, gay rights activists gave President Obama an opportunity to show how he is different. They gave him an opportunity to contrast the inclusiveness, the progressiveness and the modernity of the Democratic party with the exclusionary, regressive Republicans.
The personal views of our leaders are no doubt important and can be reassuring, but what we need is world changing action and for that, we must act to create a reality in which such action is politically feasible.
When the Supreme Court was deliberating on the constitutionality of health care reform, I wrote about how successful the Republicans were in creating the reality that led to that moment.
By taking a unified stand and claiming the individual mandate was unconstitutional, the Republican Party, conservative think tanks, right-wing media and Republican activists helped create a climate of controversy about the legislation, which then pressured the mainstream media to report on the controversy, which then created a cloud of doubt among the public, which ultimately created an environment in which the right-leaning members of the Supreme Court could make a judgement that may have looked radical or outrageous if not for the contextual cover provide by permission structure.
In that same piece, I wrote about how a similar permission structure was created to delay a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline:
Bill McKibbon, 350.org and thousands of activists helped create an environment in the Autumn of 2011 within which President Obama felt pressure, but more importantly had political cover, to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama may have personally wanted to oppose it prior to those protest actions, but without the work of activists that raised public awareness about this issue, he may not have been able to politically justify opposing the pipeline as he eventually did. Additionally, had the activists done more or had a more politically diverse coalition of organizations voiced their opposition to the pipeline, Obama may have then had even greater latitude in how forcefully he opposed the plan.
Andrew Sullivan is right that major reform to the drug war will not happen without activists forcing politicians to act. The same is true for climate.
So here's where we go from here: If you were happy to hear Obama mention his desire to address climate change, you have just opted-in to the movement that will force him to act on this pledge. The cynics among us may claim that Obama's pledge was empty, merely soundbites he won't back up with action. To the cynics I say, call his bluff. Join the earnest among us and let us all together pressure this President, this Congress to act. What actions you take will be up to you, but act you must. If we don't, we too are making empty promises.
It was fitting then and it is fitting now to quote Ray Bradbury's line on optimism:
"Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year."
Let's make 2013 a good year. Let's help this President achieve the lofty goals he's set for himself. Let's make Obama's second term the one upon which future generations look back and say, I'll be damned, they really did it. They turned it around.