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My dream of an Obama bait-and-switch

1 September 2012 · Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

We’re screwed. Unless, that is, the President of the United States of America pulls the biggest bait-and-switch in human history.

Quite literally, the world as we’ve known it all of our lives is almost certainly going to change, radically and soon, in ways so alarming it’s easier to ignore it than face it. John Atcheson outlines the severity of the problem in a recent article. Bill McKibben shows us the math. At this point, it could very well be game over.

You might think, with an impending catastrophe of literally Biblical proportions looming, that the political class would be falling over themselves to play savior to the American people and, indeed, the human race. Not so.* But why?


As outlined by Lawrence Lessig in Republic Lost, people of good will on both sides of the aisle are inevitably corrupted by the need to raise ungodly amounts of cash in order to compete in the election process. Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger ask “Where is the outrage?” Where, indeed.

So crazy, it just might work

Mr Obama is part of the problem. He has done nothing substantial to derail the speeding freight train of calamity bearing down on us and, in fact, has attempted to hasten our doom by advocating for projects such as the Keystone Pipeline, which alone would help unleash enough carbon into the atmosphere to guarantee our collective demise. Awesome.

Naively, perhaps, I cling to a shred of optimism about the character of our President, Barack Hussein Obama. He’s a true global citizen. Bi-cultural roots, experience living overseas, I want to believe he understands how we’re all connected and that the United States, considering our outsized contribution to the current climate crisis, must be the driving force in saving us all.

The rub is, Obama is just as beholden to the corrosive effects of money as any other politician. Despite being labeled a Socialist by the right-wing nutjob establishment, he has governed—if you’re intellectually honest—right of center. He has bent over backward to accommodate nearly every conservative demand in the name of “cooperation” with Congress. So, what hope is there that he will actually do something radical, no matter how needed it might be?

I put the chance of what I’m about to suggest actually happening at 0.01%. It’s probably less, but that’s my optimism talking.

It is my dream that, the day after being re-inaugurated in January, second term Obama, after campaigning as Republican-lite, and freed from his fundraising shackles, will deliver the most important speech ever given. He will tell the American people, and the world, that we are screwed. We are screwed unless we immediately switch from a rapacious, fossil fuel-driven society to one that consumes radically less, one powered only by sunlight and wind, one in which we all make huge sacrifices in our ways of life in order to continue to live.

Imagine the uproar that would ensue! Within the hour, Republicans (and possibly Democrats, alike) would call for the President’s impeachment. Probably, multiple groups would start plotting the assassination of this man who dared jeopardize trillions of dollars of oil company profits. But, by telling the world what many of us already know—that we must change our ways or die—he would galvanize the planet in the mission to save itself.

We have nothing to lose because we are about to lose everything. Will Barack, husband and father, recognize this and stand up to the monied interests? Will he have the courage to allow us to save ourselves?

It’s not likely. Remember, this is the same President—a Harvard-trained Constitutional scholar, no less—who is happy to wield the power of life and death over American citizens, sans due process. It could be that Obama’s moral compass is as broken as the most cynical Republican.

Here’s hoping for all of our sakes that’s not the case and that this former cool kid from Hawaii, this amalgamation of Kansas and Kenya, this brilliant, but flawed man with the inspiring rhetoric and discouraging politics finds it in himself to do something truly radical.

* Well, in fact, politicians are trying to play savior. That’s what they do. What I mean is that they’re not actually trying to save us, just to present themselves as the solution for problems that aren’t as intractable as climate change.