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Paul Rahe: Can Obama save his presidency?

Hillsdale College Professor Paul Rahe writes:

On the face of it, the question I pose is absurd — not, of course, because Jacob Weisberg is right in supposing 2009 “Obama’s Brilliant First Year.” For the piece in which Weisberg argues this implausible case, he should be given the Steven Clemons Award, which is reserved each month for the author of a deadly serious post that is most likely to be misread as a parody.
No, as I tried to show in my post this past Sunday, Obama is in deep trouble, as is his party, and virtually everyone in our political class, apart from Weisberg, senses it.
If the question I pose is absurd, it is because Barack Obama has three years left in which to rescue his Presidency, and a lot can and will happen in those three years.
None of it will help President Obama one iota, however, if he does not dramatically reposition himself. Tonight, in some measure, he may do so — by the simple expedient of putting some distance between himself and those in his party (Joe Biden included) who think it possible for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan with its tail between its legs and nonetheless prosper.
Next week, President Obama will have another, even more important opportunity to reposition himself. He will be once again in Copenhagen — where some weeks back he made a colossal fool out of himself (and us) while seeking to persuade the International Olympic Committee to hold the next Olympics in Chicago.
This time, however, if our President wanted to, he could present himself as a paragon of principle and strength.
In his inaugural address, President Obama pledged to “roll back the specter of a warming planet” and “restore science to its rightful place,” implying — graceless as always — that the administration of George W. Bush has suppressed scientific truth in the interests of ideology.
In Copenhagen, President Obama can show us that — however unjust he may have been to his predecessor — he is as good as his word, and then he can regain in some measure the trust that he has lost by his involvement in the lying, the wholesale bribery, and the other shenanigans associated with the “stimulus” scam and the proposed health care reform.
In the last few days, we have learned that what has long been suspected is all too true: that the work done by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which formed the basis for the four reports issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a sham — that the data were doctored, that the computer simulation was a fraud, and that systematic efforts were made by the most prominent climate scientists to corrupt the peer-review process and suppress legitimate criticism: all for the purpose of imposing a straitjacket on the world economy.
As radical climate alarmist George Monbiot has acknowledged on his blog, “Pretending that this isn’t a real crisis isn’t going to make it go away . . . I know that opaqueness and secrecy are the enemies of science. There is a word for the apparent repeated attempts to prevent disclosure revealed in these emails: unscientific . . . No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that” climate research be “unimpeachable, not the last.”
This is precisely what President Obama could say in Copenhagen — that some of the most prominent climate scientists have betrayed their calling, that the global-warming hypothesis remains, in fact, unproven, and that the reports issued by the IPCC provide no basis for the making of public policy.
In this fashion — mindful that a specter is “an apparition inspiring dread” and that one of the principal functions of science is to dispel illusions of this very sort — he really could “roll back the specter of a warming planet” and “restore science to its rightful place.”
In such a situation, it would be appropriate that President Obama recommend that there be further study, that the raw data collected and the computer code written be available for inspection by all, and that research funds be apportioned equally between those who assert and those who deny that we are threatened by anthropogenic global warming.
In short, he could rise above the fray, as presidents are supposed to do. And, at the same time, he could get out from under the economically destructive and politically suicidal cap-and-trade bill that Nancy Pelosi jammed through the House and that he endorsed.
He would infuriate the true believers that make up much of his party’s base, to be sure. His science czar John Holdren — a radical socialist who was an alarmist regarding global cooling back in the early 1970s before he became an alarmist regarding global warming — might resign. Al Gore, who has made something like $100 million in the course of peddling junk science, would rise up in high dudgeon.
But the President of the United States would win the hearts of his countrymen. Climategate could be for Barack Obama what Sister Souljah was for William Jefferson Clinton.
Alternatively, of course, President Obama could hunker down, embrace “the specter of a warming planet,” and disgrace himself by telling us what anyone who pays the slightest attention to developments knows to be untrue, as he has done so often in the health care debates. If he does so, however — if he really is, as I suspect, a one-trick pony, an empty suit with a golden tongue — he will only accelerate his precipitous decline and that of his party in the polls.

Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. He is the author, most recently, of the companion studies: Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic and Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.

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