WASHINGTON -- Happy days are not here again, but they are coming for conservatives. Barack Obama -- with the lowest approval rating (according to Gallup, 50 percent, four points lower than that of the National Rifle Association) of any re-elected president when inaugurated since the Second World War -- has a contradictory agenda certain to stimulate a conservative revival.
Consider his vow to expend political capital on climate change. The absurdity of the Kyoto approach -- global climate treaties agreed to by 190 nations -- is now obvious even to most former enthusiasts. Mr. Obama can propose cutting U.S. fossil fuel emissions (just 16 percent of the global total) with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme, but Congress will pass neither. So he will be reduced to administrative gestures costly to job growth, and government spending -- often crony capitalism -- for green energy incommensurate with his rhetoric.
He says "the threat of climate change" is apparent in "raging fires," "crippling drought" and "more powerful storms." Are fires raging now more than ever? (There were a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006.) Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land use practices? Is today's drought worse than, say, that of the Dust Bowl, and was it caused by 1930s global warming? As for "more powerful storms":
Because Sandy struck New York City, where the nation's media now congregate and participate in the city's provincialism, this storm was declared more cosmically momentous than the 74 other hurricanes that have hit or come near the city since 1800. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was called a consequence of global warming and hence a harbinger of increasing numbers of Category 3 or higher hurricanes. Since then, major hurricane activity has plummeted. No Category 3 has hit the United States since 2005. Sandy was just a Category 1.
Mr. Obama's vow to adjust Earth's thermostat followed the report that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous 48 states. But The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, who has concisely posed the actual climate policy choice ("How much should we spend on climate change in order to have no effect on climate change?"), has noted that although 2012 was 2.13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than 2011, "2008, in the contiguous U.S., was two degrees cooler than 2006." And "2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all cooler than 1998 by a larger margin than 2012 was hotter than 1998." Such is the rigor of many who preen as devotees of science, they declared the 2012 temperatures in the contiguous states (1.58 percent of the Earth's surface) proof of catastrophic global warming.
A flourishing American economic sector is fossil fuels -- especially oil and natural gas -- which the Obama administration seems to regret and often impedes (see: fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline). Yet the natural gas boom is one of the main reasons why in 2012, U.S. fossil fuel emissions were the lowest since 1992. Mr. Obama's wariness about the pipeline suggests that he subscribes to some environmentalists' stupendously weird theory: If the pipeline is not built to carry oil from the (supposedly dangerous) development of Canadian tar sands, Canada will leave those sands undeveloped rather than sell the oil to China.
Small businesses create most new jobs, but many businesses are avoiding hiring a 50th employee, or are replacing full-time employees with those working fewer than 30 hours a week, to avoid Obamacare's costly requirements regarding provision of health insurance. Some colleges and universities are reducing to 29 the number of hours adjunct professors can teach, which is condign punishment for those professors -- most of them, surely -- who favored Obamacare.
It and other regulatory burdens, combined with the subsidization of not working (47.5 million receiving food stamps, 8.6 million receiving disability payments, unemployment benefits extended from 26 weeks to 73 weeks -- so far), partially explain this fact provided by Richard Vedder of the American Enterprise Institute: "If today the country had the same proportion of persons of working age employed as it did in 2000, the U.S. would have almost 14 million more people contributing to the economy." Fourteen million is more than the combined work forces of 18 states.
In the rhetorical cotton candy of his inaugural address -- sugary, and mostly air -- Mr. Obama spoke of "investing in" rising generations, and said: "America's possibilities are limitless." He ignores the encroaching limits imposed on the nation by his policies that are funded by debt that will burden those generations.opinion_commentary
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post (firstname.lastname@example.org).