Facing two existential threats — the Great Depression and foreign attacks on our democracy — a friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt quipped, “If you succeed, you will be our greatest president.” Roosevelt replied, “If I don’t, I will be our last.”
Roosevelt’s words are haunting as America now faces two even graver threats — the climate crisis, and a malignant domestic attack on our democracy. But missing in the Oval Office is the mantle of FDR.
Fossil fuel extraction on federal land generates one fourth of America’s greenhouse gases, and the president has full authority to limit leases. Biden campaigned on ending drilling on federal land and started off well. Lease sales were cancelled in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the West.
But after initially channeling his inner FDR, Biden has since withered, sacrificing leadership for approval ratings; ratings that are the work of the Pied Pipers of malice and propaganda at Faux News, and the “neutral” media’s obsession with feigning objectivity.
Biden’s team is making a political calculation to prioritize inflation, especially gas prices, and lighting much of his climate agenda on fire. And they only meekly acknowledge that Republicans are meanwhile lighting our democracy on fire.
Last month Biden conducted the largest-ever auction of oil and gas leases in the hurricane riddled Gulf of Mexico, claiming they were obligated by court order. That excuse is, as he would say, “malarkey.” Lessees include Exxon, BP and Chevron, all perpetrators of Gulf oil spills in the last 11 years and, despite their greenwashing TV ads, they don’t plan on using those leases to grow kale. Federal leases off the coast of Alaska will be offered in February.
So far Biden has approved 35% more drilling permits on public lands than our “raking the forests,” climate denier-in-chief did during the first three years of his presidency.
Biden opened the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to put the brakes on gas prices, hardly a move to put the brakes on the climate crisis. His infrastructure czar, Mitch Landrieu, has made a career of serving the fossil fuel industry.
Biden’s Surface Transportation Board just unleashed Utah’s carbon Kraken by approving the Uinta Basin Railway, the sole purpose of which is to quadruple fossil fuel drilling in the Uinta Basin. The Utah Inland Port Authority is licking its chops at the prospect of federal infrastructure money propping up the dirty energy inland port.
Speaking of lighting fires, yes, Mr. President, the “neutral” media should stop calling Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema “moderates.” They are petulant arsonists, drunk with ego and power and willing to light your presidency on fire just to bask in the spotlight and largess of their corporate donors. But FDR had obstructionists as well.
Leadership isn’t leaving it up to Faux News or the New York Times to tell people how to feel. Leadership is telling people the truth, however painful that may be. To put all these fires out you must light one under the American people. Call for their help because your agenda is their agenda.
If Roosevelt sat in the Oval Office today, I imagine some excerpts from his fireside chat would be:
“My fellow Americans we can have lower gas prices now, or an inhabitable climate 20 years from now. Those of you who see empty grocery store shelves, rising food prices, smother in smoke all summer, suffer heat and drought, saw your homes destroyed by fire, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes — which shall we choose?
“We can have the filibuster, or we can have democracy, but not both. If one party’s obsession is to overthrow our democracy, we cannot pursue bipartisanship. Nonetheless, I reach out to Republicans like Sen. Mitt Romney, who may not have buried their conscience. What legacy are you leaving your own grandchildren if you continue being owned by Mitch McConnell, prioritizing the good graces of a den of traitors, over saving our democracy, or our climate? As it stands, a vote for Republicans at any level of government is a vote for organized, systemic treason, for the demise of an inhabitable planet and against the future of humanity.
“Following the nation down a path it should not go is cheap political opportunism, I refuse to do it. Leading the nation to a secure future is my mandate, and with your help, I intend to fulfill it.”
Joe, if you don’t become a bolder president, you may indeed be our last.
Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.