I just got back from the Atlantic's Green Intelligence Forum at the Newseum, where Jim Fallows interviewed my friend Todd Stern, the Obama Administration's special envoy for climate change. Todd is the sort of person you want in government -- he's ferociously dedicated to his cause, and extremely competent, but I got the sense in listening to him that the health care debate is hurting whatever chance he has of going to the big Copenhagen climate change meeting in December with more than a smile and his good intentions. In other words, unless Congress passes something useful on climate change in the next three months, the Chinese and Indians, most notably, will look at him and say, in essence: "Why don't you go cap yourself first, and then you can lecture us about our responsibilities."
Todd remains officially optimistic, but, as he put it to Fallows, it's hard to work two "behemoth" issues through Congress at the same time. He mentioned, somewhat ruefully, that at his first international meeting as the climate envoy, people were so enthusiastic about the Obama Administration that he "got a standing ovation just for showing up." He joked, "I should have quit then." He went on to say, however, that "as my old boss Bill Clinton said, 'at the end of the day, the American people usually get it right.' At the end of the day -- and I hope that day is before December -- I think we will get this right."
I hope he's right, but given what has happened in the debate over health care -- the scaremongering and lying and barely-veiled racism -- I wouldn't be surprised if in November we hear Sarah Palin accusing the Obama Administration of planning to import French heating inspectors to invade our homes and force us to turn down our thermostats.