Paul Krugman had a post the other day on the “aura of inevitability” and how it finally seems to be working for progressives instead of against them. I think he’s on to something.
Summer was brutal for greens. “Cap and tax” attacks were bouncing around the Foxosphere. House Dems were getting killed back home for voting yes on Waxman-Markey. Conventional wisdom said that Pelosi had blundered by forcing them into an unpopular vote for a bill that could never pass the Senate, where health care reform was imperiled and clean energy legislation a forlorn dream.
Since then, however, greens have had one good break after another. And this isn’t like 2006, when Al Gore’s movie came out and for a while every magazine published a green issue. Those were pop culture events. These latest dramas have taken place inside the hothouse of the Beltway political world, where legislators and political operators take notice.
Start with the dirty energy Keystone Kops, shooting themselves in the foot.
First there was Big Coal’s PR arm, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, formerly seen as a lobbying juggernaut that succeeded in putting all of DC in its thrall. Then came the astroturf fraud in August, as Bonner & Assoc. — working for the coal industry — got busted sending fake letters from civil rights and women’s groups to legislators. ACCCE dropped Bonner like a hot potato, and Bonner blamed … a temp. Rachel Maddow ripped them a new one. (This story isn’t gone, either; a House hearing at which Bonner will testify was recently postponed and will happen later this month. Expect more embarrassing headlines). To boot, ACCCE saw high-profile defections from Duke Energy and Alcoa.
Then there’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has bumbled its way into ignominy in record time. First companies began leaving it over its intransigence on clean energy legislation. Then it demanded a “21st Century Scopes Monkey Trial on the science of climate change.” Then more companies left. Chamber chief Tom Donahue, oblivious to the changing political winds, bumbled around, at first defiant, then incoherent, then confused, then defensive. Then it emerged that the CoC’s membership numbers were wildly inflated — not 3 million business, but more like 200,000. Then the Yes Men came along and ganked them so successfully with a fake press release and press conference that Reuters got punked, making national headlines and completely eclipsing the launch of the Chamber’s goofy PR campaign. Maddow ripped that one too. Then the White House joined in and started pummeling the Chamber, which has spent almost $35 million just in the third quarter of this year lobbying against Obama’s initiatives. The Chamber is now in complete disarray, having become, almost overnight, a national symbol of yesterday’s news: old, out of touch ideologues in hock to old, out of touch industries.
And finally there are the authors of Superfreakonomics, whose best-seller muddling the science of climate change and advocating for hail-mary policies like geoengineering seems mainly to have served to rouse the progressive intelligentsia to climate science’s defense, and to a greater awareness and engagement on the climate issue. I haven’t seen this many posts about climate change and climate policy in the progressive mediasphere in … ever.
Meanwhile, there are more and more Faces of Clean Energy, and they ain’t clip art.
A huge group of businesses lobbied for legislation on the hill recently. A coalition of religious groups called Day Six is now lobbying for legislation. Operation Free, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, is on a Vets for American Power bus tour — “mission: secure American with clean energy” — lobbying for legislation. (For supporting “cap and tax type policies,” Penn. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe [R, needless to say] called these vets “traitors” and “Benedict Arnolds.” Again: you really couldn’t ask for enemies this clueless.) A group of 18 leading U.S. scientific organizations just sent a letter [PDF] to the Senate reaffirming, in blunt terms, the scientific consensus on the nature and urgency of climate change.
This Saturday will mark Climate Action Day, with hundreds of events across the nation and the world. A string of recent polls has shown that Americans of all political stripes, including those in conservative Dem districts and especially young Americans [PDF], want clean energy, support Obama on the issue, and want legislation from this Congress. They aren’t falling for the “cap and tax” hysteria.
Remember the Senate clean energy bill that could never pass because it couldn’t get bipartisan support? It has bipartisan support now, and Lindsey Graham coming aboard has pushed Murkowski, Byrd, and Voinovich into the maybe column. The road to 60 votes, while far from easy, is clearly visible now.
And that’s before the administration has fully engaged. Obama will give a speech at MIT on Friday supporting the legislation. The same day, Lisa Jackson will release the EPA’s analysis of the bill. Next week, the Environment and Public Works Committee will begin hearings, and among the first witnesses will be Jackson, DOE’s Steven Chu, the Interior’s Ken Salazar, Transportation’s Ray LaHood, and FERC chair Jon Wellinghoff. This kicks off what’s expected to be a full court press from the administration to get the bill done.
In short, at least for the moment, greens have the Big Mo. There’s a self-reinforcing cycle of positive stories happening. Deniers and delayers are on the defensive.
It feels good! Yes, it’s certain to change, and change again, over the course of the long fight in the Senate. But confidence is everything. Greens aren’t used to being the ones with muscle and momentum, but now that they’ve got them the thing to do is get a little swagger. Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing is more powerful in politics than the aura of inevitability.