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Opinion Joe Biden gives a big, bold, normal speech on climate change

Former vice president Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Former vice president Joe Biden continued to roll out his economic plan on Tuesday, this time centering on his climate change proposals. Right there is something of interest: Biden sees the climate crisis as a opportunity for the country — and a way to show that he knows something about a 21st-century economy. “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax,’ ” Biden said. “When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs.’ ”

The speech reflects his belief, emphasized in a sit-down with journalists on Monday, that “if I have the honor of being elected president, we’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize this opportunity and meet this moment in history.” It was ambitious: “It’s going to create at least one million jobs in construction, engineering and manufacturing to get it done,” he promised. “It’s going to make the places where we live, work, and learn healthier, improving indoor air quality and water quality, and it’s going to save tens of billions of dollars of energy costs over time.”

Biden is proposing the deployment of an array of powers, from spending on infrastructure to subsidies and rebates for Americans “to upgrade energy inefficient appliances and windows — improvements that will also cut their monthly energy bills.” In contrast to President Trump’s dystopia and fear-mongering, this was an optimistic speech:

That’s why we are going to achieve a carbon-pollution-free electricity sector by 2035. And we need to get to work right away.
We’ll need scientists at national labs and land-grant universities and HBCUs to improve and innovate the technologies needed to generate, store, and transmit this clean electricity.
We’ll need engineers to design them and workers to manufacture them.
We’ll need iron workers and welders to install them.
And we’ll become the world's largest exporter of these technologies, creating even more jobs.
We know how to do this. Our administration rescued the auto industry and helped them retool, made solar energy the same cost as traditional energy, weatherized more than a million homes — and we will do it again — bigger and faster and smarter.

Biden emphasized his commitment to making sure the same people who have been left behind by globalization are not hurt again. “I’m setting a goal of making sure that these front-line and fence-line communities, whether in rural places or in city centers, receive 40 percent of the benefits from the investments we’re making — in housing, in pollution reduction, in workforce development, in transportation — across the board,” he said.

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Trump’s knee-jerk reaction to the proposal — socialism! — rings hollow after four years of mammoth deficits and crony capitalism. If you are going to have a big and active government (there is no large constituency for small government outside libertarian circles), you might as well put it to good use in reducing carbon emissions and creating jobs.

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Also noteworthy in the speech was how adeptly Biden needles Trump for his utter unfitness and unpreparedness (still!) to govern. “When Donald Trump thinks about improving energy efficiency by retrofitting lighting systems with LED bulbs, you want to know what he says? He says he doesn’t like LEDs because the light’s no good. ‘I always look orange.’ ” He repeated Trump’s absurd statement a second time, summing up his narcissism and ignorance. Later in the speech, Biden declared, “The alternative [to his plan] — to ignore the facts, to deny reality, to focus only on the technology of the last century, instead of inventing the technologies that will define this century — it’s just plain un-American,” He continued, “That is all that Donald Trump and the Republicans offer: Backward-looking politics that will harm the environment, make communities less healthy, and hold back economic progress while other countries race ahead. . . . It’s a mind-set that doesn’t have any faith in the capacity of the American people to compete, to innovate and to win. And it will extract a deadly cost.”

By stressing optimism, technology and job creation, Biden puts himself in the can-do camp of presidents (e.g., John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan). By comparison, Trump looks small, selfish and out to lunch. That’s the way a party takes over from another that is out of steam, out of ideas and out of touch.

Finally, one could not help noticing this was a speech about something — a real issue with real proposals. In that sense, it was a reminder how normal presidents and presidential candidates can sound.

Read more:

David Ignatius: Trump, the law-and-order candidate? That’s a laugh.

Max Boot: The credibility gap between Mike Pompeo’s pronouncements and Trump’s reality

Jennifer Rubin: Joe Biden makes it clear that the country is ready for big change

Henry Olsen: Never Trumpers are Democrats in Republican clothing