The Senate Energy Committee voted today to include Arctic Refuge drilling in a massive budget reconciliation proposal, which will make it filibuster-proof. The fate of the budget reconciliation is not totally clear, but the odds are looking pretty grim. Our own Amanda Griscom Little will be writing more about this later in the week.

If you want to do something to try to stop it, the Wilderness Society has your standard online petition going. Sigh.

As a political issue, I find the Refuge rather mystifying.

Now, I understand why lawmakers (from both parties) support it: Wealthy contributors stand to benefit. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

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But why is the Republican base so fired up about it? And why have so many progressives been so quick to give up the fight? After all, no one but the oil companies — or more specifically, the oil-services companies — stand to gain from this. The amount of oil extracted will be trivial in the grand scheme of things, and it won’t lower gas prices or energy prices or make us any less dependent on "foreign oil." There’s no guarantee the oil will even be sold in the U.S. (More on the facts here.)

Somehow this issue, a fairly transparent case of corporate plundering, has become a kind of ideological totem. What’s going on?

I don’t have any pat answers, but a good place to start is reading this great essay by Paul Waldman over on AP. Among many points (some more convincing than others), he argues that the right has expended a great deal of time, money, and energy not just opposing this or that liberal politician or policy proposal, but demonizing liberalism itself. They’ve drawn a strawman caricature of liberalism and attacked it relentlessly — every individual issue is merely a proxy, an illustration, of liberalism’s evil. (Liberals, in the grips of the much-discussed policy literalism, tend to oppose proposals or politicians but rarely conservatism as such.) The point transfers straightforwardly to environmentalism — indeed, from the Right point of view, there’s almost total overlap.

This means that, by now, open liberal (or, god forbid, "extreme environmentalist") support for something — say, keeping drills out of the Arctic Refuge — is in and of itself a strike against it in the eyes of the Republican base. The merits of the case are incidental. If progressives vocally support protecting the Refuge, then it is a matter of honor, a matter of principle, to get the drills in there. Libero-enviro-socialists have plans for world domination, and even if it is not obvious exactly how, anything they support is part of that plan and must be opposed.

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Worse yet, vocal liberal or environmentalist support even seems to embarrass some "moderate" liberals. If the left wing of the Dem party supports something, moderates view it as an opportunity to distance themselves from the unwashed masses and establish their solid centrist bona fides. Even when the issue, like drilling in the Refuge, is not obviously ideological at all.

It’s bizarre: moderates proving their moderation by allowing corporations to plunder one of the last truly wild spaces in the country, to the benefit of no one but those corporations.

How did we fall down this rabbit hole?

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