Framing Science

In a fascinating cover article at the Sunday NY Times magazine, Bill Clinton reflects on health care and climate change as the two major failures of his presidency. Here are the key passages where Clinton describes why he wasn’t able to accomplish more on climate change:

On climate change, he argued that he did what he could as president; he pushed for the Kyoto treaty curbing greenhouse gases but never sent it to the Senate because it would not be ratified. “Nobody was really focusing on climate change,” he said. “So a lot of times you have to wait for the time to get right.”…

…A few weeks after Obama’s inauguration, Clinton joined Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to talk about climate change at the Center for American Progress, the liberal research organization founded by his former White House chief of staff John Podesta. Moderating was Timothy Wirth, the former Colorado senator who served as an under secretary of state in Clinton’s administration. Wirth noted the recent momentum on climate change, then turned to his former president.

“Why did this take so long?” Wirth asked Clinton pointedly. Clinton looked a little peeved. “We didn’t have the votes before,” he explained.

Later in the program, Podesta returned to the subject. “I want to come back to the question you posed to President Clinton, which is what’s different than the last 35 years,” said Podesta, who most recently served as Obama’s transition chief. “And I’d say after this beginning, it’s that we have new leadership to move the issue forward.”…

…While Emanuel points to history, some Democrats blame Clinton for being too tactical and hope that Obama will achieve what his predecessor failed to do in remaking health care and reining in climate change. “So why didn’t more happen?” Wirth asked, repeating his own question when I tracked him down after the forum on climate change. “That’s the first question that has to be looked at. It was not very high on their political list, and I think they were somewhat afraid of the issue politically.” Clinton was right that he did not have the votes, Wirth said. “But they didn’t try to get the votes,” he said. “When we were doing Kyoto, they weren’t really helpful in driving the issue at all, the White House. We were sort of hung out there on our own at the State Department. So we lost all those years.”


  1. #1 adugan
    June 2, 2009

    i think many in the nineties were still in denial about global warming
    Bill Clinton is out there now more than Al Gore on this subject.
    check out my Bill Clinton blog

  2. #2 George D
    June 3, 2009

    The Clinton-Gore Administration actually fought on the side of the polluters in negotiations to radically cut targets. And only then, when they had the weak targets they wanted, did they back out of the agreement.

    Of course, they didn’t want to get off side with Detroit, the resource industries, the unions, and faced hostile Congress and Senates.

    History is written by the victors, and Gore and Clinton have refashioned themselves as crusaders now that they don’t have to make the hard decisions. So they are given more credibility than they deserve.

  3. #3 Paul Murray
    June 3, 2009

    IOW: too many old men in the senate. Was it Max Planck who pointed out that new scientific ideas win not by persuading their opponents, but by outliving them? Pity we don’t have that much time.

  4. #4 Duncan
    June 3, 2009

    Of course, no one remembers anymore all the talk at Kyoto about how the U.S. was too powerful for its own good in a unipolar world, and how Kyoto was going to be a way to weaken the U.S.

    IIRC the idea was to let western europe net out their emissions with all the eastern bloc nations whose economies collapsed after 1990 and who could achieve great further reductions cheaply by modernizing equipment, while denying the U.S. the opportunity to net out with latin america or China or anything. That way the U.S. would be burdened with costs far higher than any of its competitors and would be weakened.

    Yeah, it’s a mystery why Clinton didn’t feel he could get the votes for that in Congress…

    Almost criminal that he didn’t try harder.

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