You already know that immigration reform and gun control are two of the major Obama agenda items for the second term, but the White House is insisting that climate change will be one, too. There’s just very little objective evidence that’s true in the sense most people understand it.
There’s a difference, of course, between making an issue a major priority and advancing major legislation on it. It’s partly semantic, but not entirely. A president can elevate an ignored or latent issue by making it a major priority and still get tangible things done short of major legislation. But we’re well past the point now where we need to raise awareness on climate change or introduce it into the national political conversation.
Carbon regulation, for example, still looks a long way off, even though it’s a necessary first step in beginning to reconfigure the carbon-based economy. In examining the failure of cap and trade in the first term, in an exhaustive report released this week, Theda Skocpol was not optimistic that the second term will yield dramatic results.
“Whatever environmentalists may hope, the Obama White House and Congressional Democrats are unlikely to make global warming a top issue in 2013 or 2014; and there is no indication that pragmatic political consultants will soon advise most politicians in office or running for office to make this issue a top priority,” Skocpol wrote.
A headline on a McClatchy story this week sums up the lay of the land: “Climate change activists turn to plans, persuasion, prayer in Obama’s second term.” Prayer. Not to diminish prayer, but … well. Immigration reform advocates, in contrast, are buzzing with excitement that they will be, one way or the other, making major advances in the coming weeks on key elements of their agenda.
White House assurances that climate change will be a major priority comes as NASA and NOAA each released reports this week finding that 2012 was among the warmest years on record.
I don’t think the White House’s reading of the politics is wrong. No form of real carbon regulation is going to get through this Congress. What they’re left with is regulatory tinkering at the margins and keeping the issue alive, which is probably what the White House means by making it a major priority. Just don’t mistake that for real progress.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.