Leadership is knowing what must be done and paying the necessary price to get it done. FDR showed leadership when he stood up to the financial industry in 1932. Harry Truman showed it when he integrated the military despite wide spread public opposition. Dwight Eisenhower showed it when he warned us about the military-industrial complex. Lyndon Johnson showed it when he sent federal troops to integrate our schools, and Jimmy Carter showed it when he risked his re-election to tell us the truth about our oil addiction.
Mr. President, you started off well, picking the right advisors on climate and energy, like Steven Chu, Jane Lubchenco and John Holdren. They have no doubt informed you of the climate, health and economic consequences of allowing fossil fuels to continue to dominate our country’s and therefore the world’s energy portfolio. You know that the window of opportunity to protect the future for our children, grandchildren and all subsequent generations is closing because we are rapidly approaching irreversible climate tipping points.
You know that this is not just the most important issue of our time, but of all time. Our scientists are telling us that the threat from fossil fuels will dwarf every threat mankind has ever faced including nuclear war. Once the climate has turned harshly against us the genie will truly be out of the bottle for hundreds if not thousands of years. Even the medical community is now recognizing that the climate crisis represents the greatest threat to worldwide public health in the 21st century.
Driven by short-term financial self-interest, the conservative stampede has used their media platforms and substantial financial resources to seduce the public into thinking that the climate threat is a hoax, exaggerated, or requires solutions we can’t afford. The Pied Pipers of denial – Beck, Palin, Inhofe, Limbaugh, McConnell and Murdock – are luring us into a climate abyss. The majority of the country still believes the warnings of the relevant scientific community, which are becoming more stark almost by the hour. That majority voted for you, Mr. President. But you have let the conservative lemmings overwhelm your good intentions.
This country has always been willing to fight for its survival and for the survival of other countries as well. We fought and won two world wars. We used our resolve and resources to achieve scientific and military superiority in response to perceived threats outside our borders. We have rallied for justice, granting civil rights, equal rights and human rights and to stop unjust and misguided wars launched in overreaction to those threats.
Our greatest moments have always been inspired by great leaders, willing to tell the truth, even when the public resisted or found it painful to hear. Often pivotal political careers were laid on the line in asking for public sacrifice for the common good. In the past we responded and rescued ourselves and much of the world as well. But it is the eleventh hour in our greatest battle ever, and you seem to have given up.
Before you became President, you displayed real leadership in standing against the popular wave and the Iraq War in 2002. That courage and wisdom is why many of us voted for you in 2008. But something has changed. Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Emanuel must have convinced you to retreat to a safe cocoon of conventional wisdom. In this case, conventional wisdom is only conventional cowardice. Allowing yourself to be tied to the bumper of public sentiment, especially when you know the car is being driven to a demolition derby, is not leadership.
You and Sen. Reid – a former boxer – have conceded the most important political fight we will ever face without even putting on the gloves. A leader who won’t risk his pedestal to stand up for the truth is as tragic as a leader who lies about it. You have relinquished the public dialogue and therefore public policy regarding our future to a tsunami of lunacy from Congress, Fox News, and fossil fuel corporate strategists. We will get no meaningful energy/climate legislation now because apparently honoring the tradition of a Senate filibuster trumps saving this country or mankind.
The laws of physics and Mother Nature are not running for re-election and they will not wait until the Democrats can get 60 votes. Now is as close as the Democrats will ever get to 60 votes until the disaster is undeniable and irreversible. By then it won’t matter if you have all 100 votes. If you fail here, nothing else you ever do will even begin to compensate.
I bought my son a t-shirt that says, “There is no Planet B”. Nor is there one for Sasha and Malia, Mr. President.
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