Van Jones often warns clean energy proponents that anyone they don’t organize into their coalition will be organized against them. Increasing energy prices disproportionately impact the poor, which leaves low-income people and minorities open to demagogic appeals from groups focused on increasing fossil-fuel production.
We saw some evidence of that dynamic today at a press conference organized by groups fighting what they call a "War on the Poor." Present were Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality, Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), principle sponsor of the Americans for American Energy Act, and, from the advocacy group 60 Plus, a conservative alternative to the AARP that shills for the pharmaceutical industry, director Jim Martin and … legendary pop crooner Pat Boone! Yes, Pat Boone.
Innis calls it a "movement," but from the evidence today, it’s not exactly catching fire — other than the speakers, a couple of congressional staffers, and a camera operator, Kate and I were literally the only people in the room. He also calls it a "bipartisan" campaign, but evidence of bipartisanship is thin. Of the 16 "Punishers of the Poor" unveiled thus far,
15 all are Democrats ( Rep. Nick Rahall is the token R I’m an idiot — of course Rahall’s a Dem — for some reason they had him listed as an R). The list is topped by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
CORE is known for running anti-environmental campaigns, and has taken $275,000 from Exxon since 1998. (See this expose in the Village Voice.) The book by its leader Roy Innis, Energy Keepers, Energy Killers: The New Civil Rights Battle, was published by the right-wing Heartland Institute and leads off with a foreword from Fox commentator Sean Hannity.
Americans for American Energy is a PR campaign from Pac/West Communications, funded by $3 million from a no-bid contract from the State of Alaska to stump for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Pac/West is legendary for fronting anti-environmental campaigns (and hiring Dick Pombo after he lost his race).
Bishop Jackson claims to be a Democrat, but he’s notorious in D.C. for showing up at events supporting Republicans as the token Dem. He’s co-authored a book with right-wing "values" maven Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. His High Impact Leadership Coalition campaigned tirelessly for President Bush in 2004. ("God has been preparing the heart of President Bush to take a radical stand for social justice in his next term." How’d that work out?)
The most amusing moment of the event came when Pat Boone took to the mic and rambled on for a while, inveighing against the Estate Tax (apparently it hits cafeteria workers and taxi drivers, even though it kicks in only for estates above $2 million), bashing Al Gore for his energy consumption and Sheryl Crow for her toilet paper comment, and finally lauding the "original maverick," John McCain. Boone’s comments put somewhat of a strain, you might say, on the bipartisan veneer.
So yeah, as you’d expect, the whole operation is a fairly transparent Republican astroturf effort.
It’s a mistake to write the campaign off, however, just because nobody seems to be paying attention. The message goes into conservative media outlets — especially talk radio and direct mail — and ends up finding its way to the working class whites Dems are making such efforts to reach. Much like Newt Gingrich’s recent efforts, this is a corporate-funded, top-down campaign meant to shift the national narrative, and Van Jones is right: greens either build a counter-narrative about how their policies benefit the poor, or they will lose.
(We’ll have a short interview with Innis up soon.)