President Obama has shown little rhetorical mercy this summer toward companies that have sought to expatriate themselves to cut their tax bills. In a weekly radio address last month, he even called it “unpatriotic” for corporations to shun their obligations to the U.S. government by changing their nationalities — an issue that exploded this week as Burger King announced plans to relocate its headquarters to Canada.
But politicians should be slower to throw stones. For even as his administration has been measuring the guillotine for the formerly American ground-beef monarch, Obama was himself hatching a plan with the openly stated purpose of moving beyond the confines of U.S. law.
In its zeal to court wealthy environmentalist donors, the Obama White House announced plans to negotiate and sign a climate accord at a United Nations summit in Paris next year. There's just one catch: There is zero chance that an agreement on this topic will get the 67 votes required for ratification in the Senate.
Why bother with a treaty that will have no legal authority in the United States? The only reason for it is to pressure the Americans he ostensibly represents at the negotiating table into conforming with nations on the opposite side of the issue. As the New York Times put it, “Obama's climate negotiators are devising what they call a 'politically binding' deal that would 'name and shame' countries into cutting their emissions.”
And so having failed during six years in office to get his way — the public is utterly unpersuaded of the need for laws that impose drastic, economy-crippling reductions in carbon emissions — the president is now carrying out his own inversion by enlisting foreign governments to overcome domestic resistance. At next year's summit in Paris, Obama plans to negotiate against you. If corporate inversions are suddenly unpatriotic, what is one to make of this?
Whatever one’s views of global warming, it is doubtful that even extremely painful carbon laws in developed nations can do much to prevent it. Based on U.N. estimates, the Science and Public Policy Institute calculated recently that reductions from a complete cessation of U.S. emissions, which will never be on the table, would be replenished by developing countries almost by the end of this decade. If the dire projected consequences of climate change are real, it will take an economic revolution to prevent them, not just new laws.
Obama's “name and shame” strategy against the United States could also backfire. Since rejecting the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the United States has effortlessly reduced emissions faster than several of the treaty's European signatories. And as market forces move U.S. energy production away from coal and toward cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas — thanks to fracking — America may find still more painless reductions while Europe struggles.
The deeper problem is that Obama's governing strategy — on the use of military force, immigration, education, and, in this case, climate — has devolved into one clever gimmick after another to circumvent the authority of the Congress Americans elected. Voters should ponder this as Election Day approaches.