Daily Archives: November 25, 2009

I can’t see that Obama’s decision to go to Copenhagen and proclaim a goal for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions amounts to much. The 17 per cent cut by 2020 he is talking about is in line with the reductions foreseen in the bills now in Congress, but those bills are stuck. Perhaps it would be unseemly not to turn up at all–since he will be in the area, collecting his Nobel prize for most promising world leader–but he cannot disguise the fact that, despite all the expectations aroused earlier, he is going empty-handed. It isn’t the world he needs to convince on global warming, it is the electorate back home.

This is all the harder since the climate science email dump, which showed leading experts–people calling for enormous changes in how the world’s economies work–discussing ways to keep their data private, manipulate public opinion, and deny dissenters access to the professional literature. (None of those emails surprised me, by the way. When it comes to public relations, the climate-science cabal is its own worst enemy. I’m surprised so many people are surprised.)

I’ll return to this subject–but I continue to believe, in any case, that quantitative targets are not the way to go. Despite the totalitarian instincts of some climate scientists, the problem is real and needs to be addressed. Kyoto, however, proved beyond a doubt that the quantity-target  approach is too complicated. Convergence on a global price of carbon makes much better sense, not just in economic terms, but as a matter of practical diplomacy as well. The Senate bill nods in that direction by contemplating a price collar–in effect, a target for prices not quantities. That is the way to go, but the diplomacy needs to be reorganised around the idea. The administration should be leading that effort, and simultaneously making its case to US voters.

I’m still thinking about whether Copenhagen is merely another pointless international sideshow, or, like the intellectual intolerance of the climate-science establishment, an actual obstacle to getting this job done. Probably the latter.

So now Lou Dobbs weighs a run for the Senate–as a stepping stone, mind you, to the presidency. Asked whether he had been urged to ponder a White House run, “Yes, is the answer,” he said. Sarah Palin, far more likeable than Dobbs in my view, probably belongs in a similar category, though she is approaching it from the opposite direction: a politician burnishing her credentials as a celebrity, and making a ton of money in the process, rather than the other way round.

Sarah Palin would surely be better as a replacement for Oprah Winfrey than as president, and I say that not to belittle her: Oprah is an astonishing woman, a force of nature. But the point is, the fields are merging. Or I should say they continue to. Let us not forget Ronald Reagan, who did pretty well as president, considering.

Oprah should run for something. Al Franken has already broken through the Senate’s glass ceiling for second-rate comedians. John Stewart, a first-rate comedian, should follow his example. And if the electorate hesitates, there is always the appointments process. I envisage Charlie Rose as secretary of state and Jim Cramer as Treasury secretary (a celebrity bloviator with serious money: perfect). Conan O’Brien? CIA director. Angelina Jolie, obviously, at the UN. And Lewis Black would be an outstanding Fed chairman.

The NYT’s Roger Cohen reports Henry Kissinger’s take on Barack Obama’s performance to date:

“He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games,” Kissinger said. “But he hasn’t completed a single game and I’d like to see him finish one.”

Cohen says he thinks that is quite apt, and I agree. He goes on to argue that Obama seems over-managed and over-scripted, lacking in “guts” and “warmth”—a common complaint this past year, and now increasingly popular even among Obama admirers. Here though I disagree. I don’t think it hurts that he is reflective and cerebral: he is charming too, and can connect emotionally, so he can get away with it. In any event Obama is a brainy president and it would be a mistake for him to pretend not to be. His problem—and the polls show he does have a problem—is not so much intellectual distance as political distance: he seems oddly removed from the discussion the country is having about its future.

You see plenty of him, to be sure. You just don’t see him guiding the debate on health care, or energy, or financial regulation, or anything.

Next week this should change. It had better. He is expected to announce, finally, his decision on additional forces for Afghanistan. He has just upped the stakes by saying that he, unlike his predecessor, “would finish the job” the US started eight years ago. A bold formulation.

This is an unpopular war. Selling the case for extra troops—assuming that is what he announces—is going to be as important for his presidency as it is difficult. When he announces this decision, it will be his. He will not be able to stand aside from it. We will find out what kind of a leader he is.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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