Al Gore and the Disappointed Left
Al Gore Criticizes Obama’s Sluggishness Regarding Environmental Woes—A Familiar Refrain on the Left
On Wednesday Rolling Stone published a 7,000-word essay by former Vice President Al Gore that included 250 words critical of President Obama’s failure to, among other things, “use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.” The press sprang on the story in their usual fashion, and we saw “Al Gore Blasts Obama On Climate Change For Failing To Take ‘Bold Action’” headlined in stern, bold (no pun intended) lettering on The Huffington Post’s website within hours of the article’s release.

Gore’s criticism focuses on Obama’s inability to get a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill past Congress and the president’s cowing to oil and gas interests in ending offshore moratoriums and advocating for more domestic oil production in the light of increased gas prices. But this criticism follows a long paragraph praising Obama’s achievements: stricter emissions standards for automobiles, regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) by the Environmental Protection Agency, and, more recently, Obama’s push to end subsidies for big oil.

Nevertheless, ABC News insisted on boiling Gore’s entire essay, which was only partially about specific politicians, down to one sensational and ultimately inaccurate sentence: “Gore accused the president of having done little to move the country forward on the issue of climate change.”

Followers of the liberal blogosphere will no doubt see something familiar in the “Obama didn’t do enough” trope coming from pundits and politicians on the left. Even NPR, considered a liberal media outlet by most conservatives, portrayed the general message of this year’s Netroots Nation convention—a gathering point for liberal activists and bloggers from across the country—as “Obama: ‘Not Our Boyfriend Anymore.’” Liberals, say the headlines, are fed up with Obama’s failure to act on all kinds of initiatives he promised to address, including tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

But that’s all these claims are: headlines. Meant to grab our attention. Perhaps meant to grab the President’s attention and get him back on (his supporters’) track. Despite all the supposed disappointment in Obama, straw polls of Netroots Nation conducted by Greenburg Quinlan Rosner and affiliate organizations show that 80% of those attending still approve or strongly approve of the president’s performance, down only four points from 2010.

So why all the infighting? Well, the short answer is that moderates wind up disappointing everybody. Obama’s too far to the left for his Republican opponents to label him anything short of socialist, but too close to the middle on environmental issues and climate change to satiate liberal activists. Gore’s critique, part of a growing wave of dissatisfaction emanating from Obama’s base, is indicative of how unwilling liberals are to be dragged to the middle by their premier politicians. The long answer involves a political culture that thrives on conflict and vitriol, the exaggeration of every minor disagreement on how the country should be run into shouting matches and threats of secession (see Texas Governor Rick Perry), and the stubborn resistance of so many Americans to the scientific reality of anthropogenic global climate change.

Still, the issues of clean air and water, species preservation and climate change are too important to merit certain kinds of compromise. Even more dire: the complete lack of environmental awareness, scientific or moral, present among Republican presidential candidates. From the backtracking of Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Tim Pawlenty on greenhouse gas regulation to the openly anti-science comments of Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann (the former derides climate change as a hoax meant to give the government more control over our lives while the latter demands the dissolution of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create more jobs—perhaps in medicine?) it is clear that environmentally conscious voters skilled in long-term thinking need a champion for our cause.

Al got several things right in those few paragraphs on Obama. Giving lip service to renewable energy and then expanding oil and gas drilling at the behest of lobbyists is disingenuous and demoralizing for his environmentalist supporters. Letting cap-and-trade die in the senate when Democrats held a supermajority was a significant lost opportunity. If Obama is going to drive people—Al Gore included—to not only vote for him but to actively campaign for his reelection bid, he’s going to have to put a lot more passion in both his speeches and actions.

That, or just point our attention to his competitors on the right.