What if the Subject Had Been Avoided Altogether?

The ‘Where’ and ‘When’ of Obama’s Inaugural Remarks

Obama’s inauguration day climate remarks reflect the President’s ability to ‘speak softly’ yet firmly on the climate challenge. Still to be determined: just how big a stick he’ll wield in moving forward.

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One of the early lessons first-year journalism students often were exposed to back in the day when a journalism education was pretty sure to lead to full-time media employment: the “What?” of the “Who? Where? Why? What? When” news story “inverted pyramid” template often was the most important component.

Fuggedabout the “Where” and the “When” in most cases. And, unless it’s in fact a really special “Who,” that too often should be played-down relative to the WHAT.

News Analysis

Like so much else in journalism, things change, and that traditional approach to “straight” news writing has pretty much gone the way of in-depth context and nuances in the day of the 140-character Tweet.

It is, in fact, the “Who” and the “Where” of President Obama’s second inaugural address on climate change that make his utterance so notable … and potentially important even. No grander stage, one can say, than a Presidential Inauguration and a global television audience.

It’s not necessarily the 161 words the President spoke on the subject that make it so notable — it’s the who and the where of those words. By measure, one can simply note how his absolute silence on the subject of climate change would have been greeted by the growing numbers increasingly seeing it as among the most critical issues of the many facing the nation and the second-term of Barack Obama.

Words. Here, for the record, they are:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

Words, not actions. And miles to go before Obama and his administration can sleep soundly on this issue, to be sure. But if the words are forerunners to more words and more commitment in the President’s upcoming State of the Union on February 12 …

… and if the words he utters on the subject then, on what could well be his second-largest “stage” …

… and if all those words are accompanied by the kind of climate-savvy presidential appointees personified by his first-term appointees of John Holdren at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Secretary Stephen Chu at the Department of Energy, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson …

… and if those individuals or their second-term counterparts can better fulfill the hopes and expectations their first-term appointments ushered in …

… and if the President, seen as likely unable to muster majority support on Capitol Hill, can make real progress administratively via regulations, Executive Orders, etc. …

Lots of “ifs” and lots of unknowns still on where — and how and when — the President’s inaugural words may lead. Lots of early commentaries too that words don’t always (often?) translate to actions.

Words alone. But given the Who, the Where, and the When, far better to have them as a springboard than to be spending the initial post-inaugural Monday-morning-quarterbacking wondering why there had been stony silence on the subject.

At the very least, the President has gone beyond the initial “national conversation” stages of his most recent public utterances on the subject. He’s set the table for providing more details and further insights into his own commitment, during the State of the Union. And then perhaps, just perhaps, more leadership and more action too, both domestically and internationally under Secretary of State nominee (and climate guru) John Kerry.

All those relishing, and all those regretting, his inaugural speech climate references will for sure be watching the upcoming State of the Union address closely. And then watching what actions the administration takes in coming months to put meat on those bones.

Notwithstanding the “Where” and the “When” of his inauguration remarks, it’s the actions, in the end, that will speak louder than any mere words. The whole world will be watching.

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