The Great Debate

Delegitimization of Obama begins


The Republican drive to delegitimize President Barack Obama’s possible second term has started.

As recent polls have allowed for the possibility that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could win the popular vote while the president carries the Electoral College, the conservative blogosphere has lit up not only with long-overdue attacks on the Electoral College but also with the specious argument that a popular-vote loss for Obama will undermine his mandate and justify continued obstruction by Republican lawmakers.


Under the Constitution, the Electoral College winner becomes president. Candidates know that when they plan their campaigns, and wise candidates could care less about the popular vote when they plot strategy and deploy resources. The popular vote, therefore, is a misleading measure of a candidate’s success or the strength of a mandate.

Obama came into office in 2009 with a powerful mandate after an overwhelming victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Yet the experience of his first term demonstrates all too painfully that Republicans feel no need for excuses to obstruct every initiative the president supports. Rather, it is enough for them – as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) so boldly stated – to pursue the goal of defeating the president by denying him success.

Their strategy has been to refuse to compromise, or even support, measures they had previously promoted, so they can assert that the president failed to bring people together and could not forge legislative results. They have worked tirelessly to stymie him ‑ and then accused him of being stymied.

Waffling on climate change? Consult friends, not science

Ever since climate scientist James Hansen first testified before Congress about global warming in 1988, the scientists, advocates, academics and former vice-presidents who work to stop climate change have presumed that the science matters. Hansen began his testimony by telling the assembled senators: “The earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements,” in full confidence that instrumental measurements would matter more than the weather outside the politicians’ front doors. Like Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, Hansen depended on graphs (he called them “viewgraphs”) and numbers to help make his case. Almost two decades later, when Gore first raised the alarm about climate change with his documentary, his strategy rested on that same science: I dare you to look at this PowerPoint and tell me climate change isn’t a problem! It is an expectedly rational assumption to make, that a rational science like science should be a trump card. Inconveniently, it’s not true.

A study published last week in Nature Climate Change, a leading, meticulously vetted journal of climate research, showed that the more scientifically literate people are, the less worried they are about climate change. “As respondents’ science-literacy scores increased, concern with climate change decreased,” wrote the study’s authors, a group that includes researchers from Ohio State, George Washington University and Yale University.

The decrease is small, but what’s telling is that the researchers didn’t come up with the opposite result. You’d expect to see that as scientific literacy increased, so should the sense that climate change is a serious problem. That, after all, is what scientists have assumed in their warnings for more than two decades.