Like everyone else, I have no idea how this fight over the payroll tax bill is going to play out. Things looked resolved on Saturday when the Senate voted 89 to 10 for a compromise bill. House majority leader John Boehner said it was a “good deal.” But then, as usual, the House Tea Party Preschool caucus threw a fit, Boehner backpedaled like mad, and now everything’s up in the air. Boehner may force an up-or-down vote on the Senate’s bill tonight, or he might do … something else.
Anyway, the big news for greens was that, after stating categorically that he would reject any bill that tied the payroll tax cut to an accelerated schedule for the Keystone XL pipeline review, Obama … accepted one. The Senate version of the bill mandates that he (or rather, the State Dept.) make a decision about the pipeline within two months.
Now. This was a pivot point for greens. How should they have reacted?
In the real world, sad to say, they reacted exactly like you’d predict: They played the outraged, betrayed losers. Naturally, Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn was right there to help them along, writing the obligatory “White House on the brink of a meltdown with environmental groups” story that he has saved as a macro on his computer.
Everyone played their assigned roles. Obama caves, greens outraged, Tea Party winning yet again, Beltway narratives reinforced. Yawn.
Here’s an alternative-world scenario:
Remember, Obama’s State Dept. has already said in no uncertain terms that if it is forced to accelerate its decision, it will not have time to do a proper environmental review and will thus reject the pipeline. The GOP is forcing State to accelerate the decision. Thus, the State Dept. is going to reject the pipeline.
Again: The GOP has likely ensured that the Keystone XL pipeline will be rejected.
Greens thought they had won a massive, historic victory by delaying the pipeline decision. Now it looks like the thing will be blocked once and for all. Unless I’m missing something, that is an epic win in the green column.
So why the eff do they respond by whining? Are they so used to losing they don’t know how to win?
If I ran the movement, the minute the Senate passed the bill with the accelerated Keystone provision, I would have been in the media, crowing and — this is important — mocking the GOP. Here’s the statement I would have put out:
For a year now, courageous activists, Midwestern farmers, unions, and indigenous groups have rallied in an unprecedented display of public opposition to the destructive Keystone XL pipeline proposal. That grassroots movement pushed us to the brink of victory — and today, it seems, the GOP has pushed us over the line. Thanks to their belligerent insistence that the pipeline decision be made within 60 days, it appears likely the State Dept. is going to be forced to reject it.
We environmentalists would hereby extend our most heartfelt thanks to the GOP. Their tantrums are doing our work for us!
Republicans reportedly believe that forcing Obama to reject the pipeline will give them an election-year issue to demagogue. All we can say to that is: Bring it on. If they campaign as poorly as they legislate, Obama has nothing to worry about.
Now, before you people start with me: I know it’s not a sure thing that Congress will pass a bill containing the Keystone provisions; I know it’s not a sure thing that if they do, State will reject the pipeline. If State really wants to cave, it has room to do so.
But so what? Liberals really need to get over their crippling misapprehension that political rhetoric needs to meet the same standards of accuracy as a white paper, or that the worst thing in the world is failing to be cynical enough in advance. In politics, perception is reality. The perception that greens are beat-down losers means that everyone on every side of officialdom feels free to beat them down. The perception that greens have outplayed the GOP, boxed them in to the point that all they have left is ineffectual symbolic gestures, can only help. The more the death of Keystone becomes a settled fact, the more pressure the White House will feel not to cave and reverse it.
Despite the fact that Josh Marshall described the “bitch-slap theory of politics” way back in 2004, liberals never have fully internalized it. (My editor Scott made the same point a few days ago.) Liberals perpetually cling to the hope that having facts on their side is enough. But how you comport yourself matters. How you talk matters. Independently of the facts.
Greens need to learn how to claim victory. How to mock and belittle their opponents (which is vastly more effective than deploying white papers and studies against them). How to act like winners. It’s self-reinforcing: When you act like an alpha dog, people treat you like an alpha dog.