Mitt Romney on Obama’s failed promise to heal the planet
September 1, 2012
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Republican Party candidate for President Mitt Romney summed up his strategy in this remark after his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on August 30, 2012:.
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
The implications of the use of the past tense in this sentence are profound; “promised to” as opposed to “promises to” suggests that Obama has already failed in his promise. We are not looking at a simple contrast of Obama as a polar bear hugger and Romney as a man who cares about you. If that was the case, there would not be any need to employ the past tense. The implication is on the surface that Obama made a promise he could not keep. That implication suggests that the concern with rising oceans may not be entirely misplaced.
The more profound message to the audience is that perhaps Obama’s promise was not one that could have been kept in the first place. Of course Romney’s promise to help the individual, to help the individual’s family, can be seen as part of America’s long anti-intellectual tradition in which concrete benefits outweigh abstract principles. There is something to such an interpretation of this statement. The implication would be that the over-educated Obama is worried about abstractions that are not relevant to ordinary Americans. This argument is particularly relevant because so many environmental groups in the US have targeted only upper-middle class possible donors and have left behind working class people.
But I would argue that there is a more disturbing aspect to this line. That is to say that Romney suggests that climate change is something that cannot change, that is beyond us, and that the only thing we can do in the face of an existential crisis is to defend what is ours. By extension, we can imagine that the many of those who say that they do not believe in climate change are, in fact, not so poorly educated, but have rather taken a subconscious, or perhaps conscious, decision to back away from this overwhelming question, focusing rather on the here and now. Not believing is like “opting out” of a rather depressing story that is better left to egg heads with nothing better to do than relate our doom.