Grading the Speech

By Keith Kloor | June 16, 2010 7:00 am

The tweety and bloggy opiners who care most about climate change and energy policy were mostly left cold by President Obama’s big speech last night. Here’s an arbitrary round-up that captures the varying reax:

MoJo’s Kevin Drum panned it. The Atlantic’s Joshua Green said it was a “decent speech, but he [Obama] wimped out on climate change.” Kate Shepard, also with MoJo, called it “disappointing” and said Obama “largely avoided the issue of climate change.” Indeed, said Bill McKibben:

I was struck by the fact that he didn’t mention climate change, except as a reference to the title of the house bill, and that he didn’t mention carbon prices.

Concludes Time’s Byran Walsh:

It may be time to bury cap-and-trade.

Yet Joe Romm gave Obama a B, and focused more on the White House talking points handed out afterward. The Oil Drum, meanwhile, played it down the middle.

So did Andy Revkin, it seems, who called the speech “workmanlike” and said:

Obama has left open the prospect of pivoting to energy and climate as a top priority in coming months, but chose (wisely) not to use a moment of national unease, built on a backdrop of unchecked pollution, as a launching pad.

That Obama did not seize this “moment,” though, is precisely what pissed off many progressive climate watchers, so it’ll be interesting to watch the reax to Revkin on that score.

I’ll update additional responses from other notable commentators throughout the day.

UPDATE: 6/16: 10:15am: Here’s the Yeglesias header on his post: “Obama Punts on Climate.” Grist’s David Roberts, echoing Romm, is determined to accentuate the positives.

11am: A quick and dirty scan of some mainstream media columnists also reveals an interesting spectrum. In the Washington Post, David Ignatius detected a”glimmer of leadership” in the speech, and said Obama got it just about right:

Call to arms. Three-point plan. End our energy addiction. God bless America.

That sort of facile nothingness frustrated both John Dickerson and Danial Gross at Slate, who wrote of Obama:

while he spoke eloquently and specifically of his faith in America’s ability to innovate in the long-term””a faith I share””he was vague when it came to the specific, short-term steps the organization he runs can take. As John Dickerson notes here, there was little mention of tough, controversial, but necessary initiatives such as placing a price on carbon, or sharply raising the tax on gasoline, or instituting a cap-and-trade regime. Obama’s speech was like a PowerPoint presentation with the last few slides missing.

For its part, The WSJ, in its lead editorial, wrote that Obama

naturally took the opportunity to put his moribund climate legislation back in play.

Based on the dominant assessment of most observations I’ve cited thus far, you have to wonder what speech the WSJ editorial writers were watching. Or are they just on automatic pilot over at the editorial page?

4.20:pm: Ezra Klein probably speaks for a lot of dispirited greens today, with this observation:

I’m just not sure how you do a response to climate change if you can’t really say the words “climate change.”

Brad Plumer over at TNR certainly agrees and adds, for good measure:

If the president can’t make that case in a major prime-time address in the midst of the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, then who can?

But Roger Pielke Jr. argues that President Obama deserves credit for admitting he doesn’t have all the answers [when Obama asked for “other ideas” on how to tackle climate change and decarbonization]. Roger adds:

For too long “I don’t know” has been taboo in discussions of climate policy. But understanding the limits of our policy proposals is a first step toward wiser policies.

On this note, Roger’s take echoes Andy Revkin’s, whose post headline on the speech read:

Obama Seeking New Ideas on Climate and Energy

In stark contrast to the many climate watchers who have slammed the President’s speech for its timidity and half-measures on energy policy, Roger is laudatory:

Obama showed policy leadership in his speech, which will likely have partisans upset. Nonetheless, it is policy leadership that this issue needs, not political posturing.

4:45pm: And finally, Alexandra Fenwick at CJR has an excellent roundup of the national press coverage of Obama’s speech, which is carried under this clever headline:

All Talk and No Oil Cap Makes Barack a Dull Boy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, Energy, obama
MORE ABOUT: climate change, Energy

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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