Commemorating Joe Romm’s “Language Intelligence”

Joe Romm‘s book Language Intelligence is now out in the US (but maddeningly, remains unavailable in Canada).  Early reviews proclaim it as both a rhetorical masterpiece, and a masterpiece on rhetoric.

To commemorate the book in my small way, I dug up a piece I wrote for a competition on Dr. Romm’s blog, Climate Progress.  In 2009, he asked readers what they’d have Obama say, if they could write the energy and environment portion of his inaugural speech.

I made a couple light edits; some phrases sounded a lot better three years ago than they do now.  Regrettably, Obama’s “yes we can” is among them.  It rings hollow in 2012, given that his governing philosophy has largely been “no we can’t” — no we can’t switch to single-payer, universal health coverage; no we can’t prosecute financial corruption; no we can’t pass a climate bill; and so forth.


My fellow Americans, while the country has richly prospered, the wages of our wealth has been pollution, which has spread – like a cancer – to all corners of the earth.  For all the gifts we give our children, today’s pollution is a “present” that will steal their future.

My fellow Americans, it is unacceptable for that to be our children’s inheritance.  As President, I am telling you it is unacceptable; as a citizen, I am telling you it is unacceptable; and as a father, I am telling you it is absolutely unacceptable!

My daughters and your sons, our nieces and nephews, the kids down the block and those across the ocean – every child in our vast American family and indeed around the world – deserve a better future and a cleaner planet!

My fellow Americans, we must turn away from the pollution of the past.  And let me tell you, there is no better way to start the next page in American history than by turning over a new leaf!

It is the scale of the challenge, that makes a triumph great.  And there is no country that can rise to a challenge like the United States of America, and no people that can rise to a challenge like the American people.  It will be difficult to make pollution history, no doubt.  It will take audacious courage to change our lifestyles and rally the world – but it’s nothing we haven’t done before.

Last century, our elders rallied the world against the Axis powers so that we their children – and all the world’s children – could live in a world without tyranny;

the century before, our ancestors fought a Civil War to change their lifestyles, so that we their children would live in a land without slavery;

and the century before, our Founding Fathers had the audacious courage to declare Independence, so that we their children could live in a land of liberty.

So to those naysayers who say it can’t be done, I say: check our track record.  Yes we can.  We already have.

Others say – “maybe we can, if we go slow”.  But slow is not the path of greatness; slow is not how leaders go.  Not with the crisis before us; not with our children at stake.  Now is not the time for what one of our greatest Americans, Martin Luther King Jr., called the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.  We must act with the fierce urgency of now!

The torch of freedom – passed from generation to generation for two hundred and thirty-three unbroken years – has come to us.  It is our time to make the change we want, and be the change we need!

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