Mainstream environmentalists who take the position that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill “could be worse” help ensure that it will be. Publicly proclaiming willingness to live with the bill in its current firm gives nobody any leverage to strengthen it.

It is the same mistake first time buyers make in car lots when they accept an offer from the nice man in the loud suit. It turns that neither the first time car buyer nor the mainstream environmentalist have actually closed a deal. They simply let the other side construct their offer, turning what they thought was a compromise into their own negotiating position which the other side can now bargain against. Proclaiming “It could be worse” makes the bill in its current form the ASKING PRICE for the environmental movement. It becomes the unrealistically leftist goal, which moderates will dilute to something more “reasonable”.

I know a lot of well-meaning environmentalists think that because version that passed out of committee already gives concessions to the coal, electricity and nuclear sectors that “moderate” Democrats will support it. This misunderstands what “moderation” in the Democratic Party is today. Democratic Party “moderates” are not moderate in the sense they look at policy and try to find sensible alternatives between extreme possibilities. Nor are they moderate only in the sense they are slightly deeper in corporate pockets than most politicians.

Democratic Party moderates are “moderate” in the sense that they find reasons to oppose their own party on most critical issues, either straight-out adapting the Republican position, or taking a position just a shade different from that of the most lunatic fringes of the Republican Party. Their “moderation” is an automatic positioning to the right of most of the Democratic Party on issues of importance, an automatic attempt to move the Overton window towards the Republicans. What part of that is genuine reactionary conviction, and what part playing to media love of Republican leaning “bipartisanship” is hard to say.

If you seriously are willing to live with the current bill, but don’t want it to get worse, your public position should be:

Hmm, I have some hard choices to make here. We need to do something, but this is so awful. I don’t know if I can live with it. Watch me agonize publicly over my moral dilemma. Isn’t my internal struggle fascinating? If only someone would improve this bill and make it better. Then I could reluctantly support it. Why oh why won’t you extremists move a little to salve my delicate conscience and win my last minute support.

If you think you are qualified to play an inside game, then please show that you know the rules. Don’t leave the Kabuki to the Ben Nelsons, Mary Landrieus, Charlie Melancons, Tim Holdens, Colin Petersons and Evan Bayhs.

And maybe even consider that this bill has a bad enough architecture not to be worth trying to save.