09/04/2012 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Team Obama: Romney's Mockery of Climate Action Is 'Terrifying'

On Saturday, Team Obama put out an email slamming Mitt Romney and the GOP for making fun of climate action at their convention:

It is nothing short of terrifying to imagine a party that openly mocks climate change taking back the White House.

They were referring to this shameful and shameless line by Romney -- and the response it got from the audience:

President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans -- [bites lip and pauses for audience laughter(!)] -- and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.

I suppose Romney believes that rising seas lifts all yachts.

This attack is shameful because global warming is the gravest preventable threat to our children's health and well-being -- and because Romney said it in Tampa, which is among the U.S. cities most threatened by global warming and sea level rise.

If the country fails to act quickly, South Florida alone will have to spend "hundreds of billions of dollars" dealing with rising seas, according to the author of a recent study on the subject. Chris Hayes on MSNBC rightly said the audience laughter at the whole notion of fighting sea level rise will some day "be in documentaries as a moment of just 'what-were-they-thinking' madness."

The quip was shameless because just minutes earlier, Romney said, "When the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American." Setting aside this sweeping insult of all the great national leaders a President Romney would have to deal with, how precisely can he mock Obama for wanting to do really big stuff after he has just praised Americans for that very quality!

Those who were hoping that a President Romney might Etch-A-Sketch his way back to climate sanity should note that not only did Romney revel in this mockery on Thursday in Tampa --  he repeated the line on Saturday in Ohio (at 12:00 in this C-SPAN video)!

Team Obama -- which has been treating climate change like the Voldemort of national issues ("The Threat-That-Must-Not-Be-Named") -- rightly called this "terrifying." The latest Democratic national platform, being approved today in Charlotte, also calls Republicans out for their denial of this grave, grave threat:

We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation -- an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits....

Our opponents have moved so far to the right as to doubt the science of climate change, advocate the selling of our federal lands, and threaten to roll back environmental protections that safeguard public health

Finally, Team Romney has raised the whole notion of taking one's opponent's words out of context to a new level, as we've seen with their utter misuse of Obama's phrase "You didn't build that," which was about the government-funded infrastructure (like the Internet) that has helped all businesses thrive.

But the Obama quote about rising seas and healing the planet is also out of context. Obama wasn't offering that lofty goal as some alternative to restoring the economy in his June 2008 speech after cinching up the Democratic nomination. Quite the reverse:

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.

These lines make use of the best secrets of inspirational speechwriting, as I discuss in my book Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga.

One can argue that Obama's reach exceeded his grasp. But "when the world needs someone to do the really big stuff," who are you going to call? The guy who thinks very big or the guy who mocks him.

This is a modified version of a piece that first appeared at Climate Progress.