In comments here, clark and da silva agree (more or less) on the following proposition:  It would be great if the environment mattered more to swing voters, but it doesn’t, and the tactical goal of the debate is to move swing voters, so maybe a green rooting for Kerry should be happy the question didn’t come up — particularly given how Kerry botched it in the second debate.

Well, yes and no.I would argue that Kerry could have knocked the environment question out of the park — and was probably better prepared to do so in the third debate.  

Kerry’s strength in the third debate was that he talked a little less about policies and statistics, and a little more about values.  Consider this, in an exchange about No Child Left Behind:

You don’t measure it by a percentage increase. Mr. President, you measure it by whether you’re getting the job done.

Five hundred thousand kids lost after-school programs because of your budget.

Now, that’s not in my gut. That’s not in my value system, and certainly not so that the wealthiest people in America can walk away with another tax cut.

Bush, on the other hand, talked less about values than usual, and more about bills and votes, perhaps because, on domestic policy, neither he nor Cheney seems to be able to muster a damn.

That’s the way you reframe environmental issues for swing-vote appeal. Consider:

Mr. President, you proposed rules that would make it easier for power plants to keep polluting.  The air would be cleaner now if you’d just done nothing.  You slowed down our progress.  Meanwhile, X number of kids in Arizona suffer from asthma.  X number of kids in Ohio.  X number of kids in Florida.  The same kids of working class families who have no health insurance and no after-school programs are getting sick breathing the air polluted by your friends in the energy industry.

America: When it comes to the choice between our children and big campaign contributors, I’ll always fight for children.  That’s in my gut.

Okay, so I’m no speechwriter, but you get the idea.

The way to reframe environmental issues for real impact is to make them about values — not laws, not regulations, not lawsuits.  We protect our children first, not our politically influential industries.

Bush has spent the entire campaign painting Kerry as a flip-flopper with no firm principles.  Kerry spent the debates exploding that image.  The right answer on the environment could have helped him do that — and helped, in some small way, to get the environment back on the country’s political radar.

And anyway … the flu?