We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But, America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries; we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways, our croplands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
—President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, 2012
Van Jones, is a former Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and currently a senior fellow at the Center for New American Progress, and a distinguished visiting fellow at Princeton University. Jones feels Obama has lost credibility on his stated climate policy. In the following short video, he lays out arguments against the president’s immanent approval of the Keystone Pipeline.
Obama—long on words, short on action
Barack Obama is, without a doubt, one of the most eloquent and skilled orators ever to hold the office of president. Yet, early on in his presidency, I noticed a recurring pattern—a disconnection between his rhetoric and his actions. His speeches and press conferences are always articulate, intelligent, and convincing yet vague on details. After years of watching and listening to Obama, and experiencing the “disconnect,” I have learned to ignore what he says and focus, instead, on what he does—or doesn’t do. When I focus on his actions alone, I am not confused by the contradiction with his words. What emerge, in his record, is his lack of leadership. His lack of leadership on climate change will be made concrete in his approval of Keystone, but that is just one example in a disturbing pattern.
Obama’s failure to lead on progressive issues
Obama’s failure to lead is more apparant as he moves into in his second term. Free from the excuse of electoral pressures, he could, for example, advocate for increasing social security payments for seniors and the disabled by raising the cap on payroll taxes, something he campained on in 2008, and wildly popular with the electorate in both parties. Yet, after being elected, he has been relentless in his drive for a “Grand Bargain” in his support of chained CPI, which would reduce payments by reducing the cost of living formula. A vast majority of voters, Democrat and Republican, are against this, and no one elected him to strike a Grand Bargain on their backs. The only people who want cuts in Social Security have addresses on Wall Street. Republican elected officials, of course, are happy to have his fingerprints on this rather than their own.
Despite Obama’s 2008 populist rhetoric and campaign promise to not cut Social Security, after his election he partnered with billionaire Pete Peterson, a man who has devoted his life to dismantling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Pete Peterson supported and funded Obama’s failed Simpson-Bowles Commission to the tune of $1 million. The commission, hand picked by Obama and Peterson, was focused on cutting “entitlements.”
Another example of the “Obama disconnect” is enshrined in his 2012 inaugural address. He spoke beautifully about preserving the environment, about being stewards of the planet, and yet he is hell bent on approving the Keystone pipeline extension, a project that serves no one but oil barons and shareholders. Keystone will most certainly damage the environment and contribute to global warming. There will be the inevitable spills, and the devastation that ensues.
Compare Obama’s rhetoric on civil liberties with the shocking growth of domestic surveillance during his administration. A growth in surveillance is, of course, lucrative for government contractors. Consider Obama’s rhetoric on whistleblowers vs. his treatment of Bradley Manning who exposed war crimes committed under his administration; and consider, most assuredly, the inevitable prosecution, under the Espionage Act, of Edward Snowden who has revealed the extent of the administration’s domestic spying. Obama, has presented himself, always in beautiful rhetoric, as a champion of open government but has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined.
Compare Obama’s rhetoric the housing crisis and underwater mortgages with his protection of banks, and his refusal to prosecute bankers or help homeowners under threat of foreclosure in a meaningful way. Consider his bait and switch on the public option—a boon for the health insurance industry. And, of course, compare his rhetoric on climate change with his inevitable approval of Keystone. On all issues, his tendency is to say the right thing, in a careful, hedging way, for the voters, and then serve his real constituency, the billionaires and oligarchs who own the government. Obama, a charismatic personality with a million dollar smile, is a master of this juggling act.
The Obama Tar Sands Pipeline
Obama’s assured approval of the extension of the Keystone pipeline—a decision that is his, and his alone, to make—will be an unconscionable decision for the majority of us. It lavishly feeds oil billionaires while endangering the environment and fueling global warming. Obama has given lip-service to the need to address climate change, but he is choosing, instead, to enrich multi-national corporations that have no allegiance to the United States. Contrary to oil company and administration propaganda, Keystone will not make the U.S. more energy independent. As Jones pointed out, much if not all of the tar sands oil will be sold on the open market to the highest bidder—most probably China. Keystone is a job creator? According to the State Department, It will provide over 3,900 temporary jobs, but only 35 permanent. The argument that Canada will build the pipeline if we don’t, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions will be no different if we don’t build it, was shot down recently when the B.C. Liberal government strongly rejected the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline citing environmental concerns.
OFA, Obama’s so called “grassroots’ organizing arm, has issued talking points cautioning members to abstain from fighting the Keystone extension. Many OFA members, who thought they had elected a progressive president, are not happy. Obama’s pattern of progressive rhetoric followed by corporate friendly actions will likely play out in his approval of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. This decision, and a host of others, begs the question, whom is Obama serving?