Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's His Side Now

If anybody operates on the sunny side of the street, it's still President Obama.  Looking fit, rested and in complete control, President Obama's press conference on Monday was a remarkable exercise in leadership.

I'm not sure how long these links will last, but here is the video, and here is the transcript.  I've embedded it, too.

He exuded ease as the President, pride and confidence in the shape of the country now versus when he took office, and in the achievements of his administration and what the US helped to institutionalize internationally.  He put the best possible face on the transition, and clearly he used his considerable powers of persuasion to urge a realistic approach.

While the headlines belie his hopes for a smooth and more realistic transition--he said he stressed the difference between campaigning and governing--his continuing attempts to nudge it all in at least a safe direction is, at the very least, intriguing and interesting to watch.  It might turn out to be very canny as well.

President Obama was most reassuring on the big changes we all fear.  He said it will be very difficult to unravel Obamacare without dire consequences, for example.  Without (of course) being asked because why would the media be suddenly interested, he talked about the Paris climate agreement:

"For example, the Paris agreement. There’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of undoing this international agreement. Now, you’ve got 200 countries that have signed up to this thing. And the good news is that what we’ve been able to show over the last five, six, eight years is that it’s possible to grow the economy really fast and possible to bring down carbon emissions as well.

It’s not just a bunch of rules that we’ve set up. You’ve got utilities that are putting in solar panels and creating jobs. You’ve got the Big Three automakers who have seen record sales and are overachieving on the fuel efficiency standards that we set. Turns out that people like not having to fill up as often and save money at the pump, even if it’s good for the environment.

You’ve got states like California that have been moving forward on a clean energy agenda separate and apart from any federal regulations that have been put forward. In fact, 40 percent of the country already lives under -- in states that are actively pursuing what’s embodied in the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan rule. And even states like Texas that politically tend to oppose me -- you’ve seen huge increases in wind power and solar power. And you’ve got some of the country’s biggest companies, like Google and Walmart, all pursuing energy efficiency because it’s good for their bottom line.

So what we’ve been able to do is to embed a lot of these practices into how our economy works. And it’s made our economy more efficient, it’s helped the bottom line of folks, and it’s cleaned up the environment.

What the Paris agreement now does is say to China and India and other countries that are potentially polluting, come onboard; let’s work together so you guys do the same thing.

And the biggest threat when it comes to climate change and pollution isn’t going to come from us -- because we only have 300 million people. It’s going to come from China, with over a billion people, and India, with over a billion people. And if they are pursuing the same kinds of strategies that we did before we became more aware of the environment, then our kids will be choked off.

And so, again, do I think that the new administration will make some changes? Absolutely. But these international agreements, the tradition has been that you carry them forward across administrations, particularly if, once you actually examine them, it turns out that they’re doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us."

This of course does not guarantee, or even indicate, that the next administration will deal with reality rather than impose ideology and the short-term interests of their biggest fossil fuel industry backers.  But President Obama makes a good case here of at least how hard it will be, and merely stating this puts everyone on notice to watch for consequences.

China has already announced that its support for the Paris treaty is unwavering, and if India stays the course then some progress can still be made.  China will of course use US federal intransigence to accelerate its clean energy manufacturing, positioning itself to be the economic leader, for as long as that means anything.  The people here who will suffer most directly from the lack of new clean energy jobs will be precisely the people who formed Trump's core support.

So I add these comments by President Obama partly because they bear on my gloomier assessments on the same topic.  And also because I was approaching my intended task of a visual retrospective of the Obama administration with a heavy heart.  I feel better about it now.  I can celebrate what President Obama accomplished, and do so in this period in which those accomplishments are ongoing.

 But as he said, his responsibility was to leave the country better off than it was when he took office, and he has done that.  And as he almost said but certainly implied, he's leaving the country in good enough shape that the new administration can flounder around and even screw things up for awhile without needing to deal with external crisis.  The problems they are having now are of their own making, and they will be causing many more problems and crises once they take power.  But I understand the perspective.  And I sure hope he's right.

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