President Obama's Speech – What did you think?
Here’s my quick take on the President’s acceptance speech at the Dem Convention last night, but I’d love to know what you thought of it as well. (The New York Times has the transcript and video of the president’s speech with sidebar analysis from Times reporters).
Overall, there was a pretty good “feel” in terms of connecting with Democratic Party and even broader American values (several strong nods to the importance of investing in education, for example, though there are lots of critics of Administration education policies). But often, as when describing environmental and energy policy (more on this later), it sounded like the president struggled to reconcile progressive, pro-people policies with the priorities of the party’s corporate overlords (as he spoke in the Time Warner Cable Arena, moved from Bank of America, oops we mean Panthers, Stadium!). To be sure, this is the reality of the struggle within the party all the time, and I think most neutral observers would posit the corporate interests are overwhelming the progressive elements of the party. Which is why Peace Action and other peace and social justice, environmental, human rights and other progressive forces need to maintain our integrity as independent, nonpartisan advocates for a better world.
Starting with the good on wars/Pentagon spending/re-investing in priorities here at home, the president said, “And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work – rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.”
Pretty good, let’s hold him to it. And of course the logic of this would lead to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan ASAP, not at the end of 2014. Also very troubling (unmentioned by POTUS in his speech) are plans in the works to keep 10-15,000 U.S. troops there for at least another 10 years after that.
Also not bad was the fact there was relatively little fear-mongering about “threats” the country faces. Yes, China was mentioned twice as a bogeyman, but in economic, not military terms. Al Qaida, the Taliban, generic “terrorists” and Iran were mentioned, but almost as a pro forma “well we have to mention some threats out there” exercise.
Not so good or truthful – the president claimed credit for ending the Iraq war. True, he did oppose the war before it started in 2003 (when he was an Illinois State Senator) and consistently spoke out against it, but as president all he did was accept the agreement to withdraw our troops President Bush had made with the Iraqi government. Well, actually there is controversy even about that, as the president and others in his administration sent up at least trial balloons, and perhaps more serious overtures, about keeping troops there longer if the Iraqi government asked for it (perhaps knowing full well it couldn’t do that).
Lastly, I was struck by huge contradictions on energy and environmental policy, but allow me to turn to folks who know these issues much better than I do (thanks to the Institute for Public Accuracy for these quotes):
Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. She said today: “While it is heartening to hear President Obama affirm that climate change is not a hoax, he — like his Republican opponent — seems to place a higher value on achieving ‘energy independence’ via expanded oil and gas drilling than on action on climate change. The Obama administration has promoted policies that will result in enormous greenhouse gas emissions being released from the expanded mining and burning of coal — regardless of whether it is burned via unproven ‘clean coal’ technology — and via the poisonous and dangerous practice of fracking for gas, as well as via expanded offshore oil drilling. He has also signaled that, after the election, it will be full steam ahead for a pipeline for the dirtiest of all fossil fuels — tar sands from Canada. This is what happens when moneyed fossil fuel interests, like the Koch brothers, maintain their grip on our nation’s politics.”
Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, Slocum said today: “It was important that President Obama made clear his belief that climate change remains a major threat — a contrast to Governor Romney’s use of climate change as a punchline to a joke in his speech. But more important will be what policy solutions President Obama proposes to tackle climate change — and how his ‘all of the above’ strategy may undermine that commitment. This election, fossil fuel corporations will spend millions to not only shape voters’ opinions of the candidates, but their attitudes on energy policy –- namely that producing and using more fossil fuels will liberate our economy. The fact is that the longer we remain with the fossil fuel status quo, the farther we fall behind on the sustainable era of renewable energy. There is no such thing as benign fossil fuel production and consumption, and the future of fossil fuels will only become more expensive.”
A retired professor at the University of Alaska, Steiner was deeply involved in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He said today: “Neither the Republican Party, nor the Obama administration seem to grasp the severity of the energy/climate crisis we are in. While the Republicans are further from an energy plan that addresses the situation, both are playing games with something that is truly a life and death situation.
“That Romney belittled sea level rise and the global ecological crisis in his convention speech one night, and the very next day toured southern Louisiana, flooded with sea water from Hurricane Isaac, was one of the most spectacular ironies in the history of American politics. I suppose we expect this sort of delusion from the Republicans.
“But the Obama administration has had several years to make serious inroads into our carbon-intensive economy, and their performance has been an utter disaster. With only a few small achievements to tout, such as the recent auto fuel efficiency standards a decade or so in the future, this administration has failed miserably to live up to what those of us who voted for them expected.
“In energy efficiency and alternative fuels, we are now at a place we should have been at 40 years ago. Here in Alaska, and across the Arctic, we are presently experiencing the lowest sea ice extent since records have been kept. Walrus and polar bears are struggling on thin ice, and in open water. At this rate, the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer within a few years.
“But instead of a crash emergency program to do everything possible to save the Arctic Ocean ecosystem from this unfolding disaster, the administration just approved Shell’s oil drilling in offshore waters. In addition to the chronic degradation from increased industrialization in the Arctic, and the very real risk of a catastrophic oil spill, every carbon atom produced from the Arctic Ocean seabed will simply wind up in the global atmosphere and oceans, further exacerbating the death spiral from climate warming. It’s a lose-lose proposition, and everyone who knows this issue knows that.
“In fact, the administration’s offshore drilling program for the coming five years is worse than that of the former Bush administration. It harkens back to the 1980s days of James Watt and Ronald Reagan.
“We cannot continue dancing around the edges of this beast, and if we care about our common future, we need immediate, emergency action on the part of the U.S. government, and world governments to reduce carbon emissions some 80 percent. Nothing short of this will do. The continuing denial of the severity of this crisis by both main political parties could be our collective undoing.”