I recently posted that Kerry-Lieberman is not worth fighting for. It also won’t pass. This proposal is dead on arrival.

I’ve heard supporters describe two paths to passage, though they sound more like wishes upon stars. One is that Obama suddenly prioritizes climate, and makes a large scale push to support the bill. I’ll let true believers debate that one. The other path is a massive grassroots surge in support of the bill. Given how awful even supporters admit the bill is, that is even less realistic.

The usual examples supporters give of weak bills that led to big changes are social security and the 1957 civil rights act (though neither was anywhere as bad as KL). But those bills did not pass because there was massive grassroots support behind those particular bills. Social Security arose in response to the Townsend clubs pushing for the Townsend act, and to the “Ham & Eggs” movement, and to the “Share Our Wealth” movement founded by demagogue Huey Long. These movements whose proposal realistically had little chance of passage, many of which were frankly crackpot and impossible to carry out, nonetheless created the pressure that made it possible for Roosevelt to get Social Security passed.

Similarly, the 1957 Civil Rights act was mainly in response to various direct actions – especially the brave actions of the Little Rock 9. The 1957 act was an elite response to the civil rights movement, which was mostly not concentrating on pushing for a legislative agenda. Anyone who calls for grassroots pressure to push KL as part of an inside-out strategy has no clue as to how an inside-out strategy works. Not that the idea of an inside-out strategy is beyond criticism, but anyone who advocates for one really should know what the term means.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But here is the thing. I suspect a lot of supporters of this bill have to know that it is not going to pass. Even if you have not studied the history of how change gets made, you have to suspect that a bill that depends on John Kerry and Joe Lieberman crafting a strategy to overcome deep odds is not going to pass.

You really believe the path to victory will be trail-blazed by John Kerry, the man who was bullied into suppressing most criticism of George Bush at the 2004 Democratic convention? You really think Joe Lieberman, a man so treacherous he overtakes himself from behind in dark alleys and stabs himself in the back, is going push through a climate bill? Heck, if Lieberman ends up being the 60th vote, there is a small but significant chance he will change his mind and oppose the bill he wrote. I wonder why many who know this bill is both awful and has no chance of passage not only support it, but verbally bash anyone who opposes it from the left.

I’d guess that it is a humiliation ritual, to build small group solidarity. Fraternities and military schools use hazing to bind their organizations more closely. Religions make members wear special clothes, carry knives, eat special diets in part to promote the feeling of separateness and otherness from the rest of the world. Supporting Kerry-Lieberman is the same thing. Supporters are proving they are not DFH (Dirty F___ Hippies) who oppose a bill just because it is a terrible piece of legislation that won’t pass. They are showing a willingness to publicly humiliate themselves. They are undergoing a ritual to demonstrate they are part of the “serious” environmental movement. And of course they are angry at people who refuse to make the same hard choice they did. Here they are making a fool of themselves in public, and those DFH not only won’t join them but criticize this hard and noble act. Why is it noble? Well it is hard isn’t it? Just like bashing your head is hard? If it is hard and painful then it must be noble. And those who refuse to take part in this humiliation ritual are weaklings and outsiders and deserve scorn.

I think this old Betty Boop cartoon captures the spirit of KL support perfectly. “Wanna be a member? Wanna be a member?” (warning: Not Work Safe)

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.


Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!