JONATHAN COHN MARCH 11, 2012
As you may have noticed, TNR is running a symposium on what President Obama should do in a second term. Yes, that is tempting fate. I can imagine about a thousand different ways that Obama loses in November. But I'm participating in the symposium anyway, because -- like the series introduction says -- he could just as easily win. Here's how my entry begins:
The strangest thing happened outside my house two hours ago. I killed a mosquito. In Michigan. In early March. If I had any doubts about what President Obama’s top priority should be in his second term, that moment erased them.
Scientists say this is the fourth warmest winter on record. By itself, that fact (like the insect I just crushed) tells us nothing about climate change, given that temperatures inevitably bounce around from year to year. But this winter's weather is part of a much broader, more gradual warming trend that virtually every scientist not on the payroll of a coal or energy company has observed. (See the graph at the end of this item.)
As you probably remember, Obama had hoped to make a comprehensive climate change bill part of his first term legacy. And the House, under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quickly passed a bill that would have created a cap-and-trade scheme for controlling emissions. But Republicans teamed up with coal-state Democrats in the Senate to kill it. And once the health care fight was over, Congress lost its interest in sweeping legislation.
Unfortunately, Congress isn't likely to change its mind after the next election, even though the case for climate change legislation only become stronger. The reason health care reform passed in 2010, and the reason the administration had chosen to prioritize it, was a combination of factors: The industry stakeholders agreed on the need for action. Liberals had spent a decade organizing around reform. And so on. The campaign for climate change just hasn’t progressed that far. Until it does, significant legislation is unlikely to pass.
So what might Obama do instead?