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  • Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic: Still rocking the vote

    Nirvana's Krist Novoselic transformed from rock star to wonky election reformist. As we head into a polarized 2012 election, his championing of ranked choice voting could help give marginalized environmental issues serious political clout.

  • Talking with voters in central Virginia about the environment and the election

    This is part of a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who’s talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election. Stanardsville, Va. — A harvest moon is rising over the cornfields on the last night of the Greene County Fair, just hours before the carnival rides are packed […]

  • Talking with voters in northern Virginia about the environment and the election

    This is part of a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who’s talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election. Reston Town Center. Reston, Va. — If Virginia were a person, it would look a lot like Rod Markham, a federal contractor, retired from the Army, who’s leaning […]

  • Talking with voters in Nashua about the environment and the election

    This is part of a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election.

    Nashua, N.H. -- Suziana Moriera does not see soaring gas prices as all bad: "It's still not hurting enough. People complain, but it's got to hurt more" before Americans will start driving appreciably less. It's got to hurt more, she thinks, before her hometown of Nashua will ever come up with public transportation that doesn't involve "waiting an hour for a bus that still doesn't take you where you need to go."

    Suziana Moriera
    Suziana Moriera

    That's why Moriera, a music teacher and registered independent whose daughter makes her living as an environmental consultant, puts green issues near the very top on the list of concerns she'll be voting on in November -- right below getting the troops out of Iraq and putting the economy back on track after what she sees as the disaster of the Bush years. ("I've had enough of the Republicans!") Yet she may well vote for John McCain for president, "even though he is in the Bush camp, and they have been terrible on the environment." Why? Essentially, because she suspects Barack Obama of being a little bit too nice a guy, a possible pushover.

    Though a lot of us do seem to want a president we'd enjoy grilling out with, the less-discussed fine print on the wish list is that we want him to be the kind of good-bud neighbor who is also capable of acting like a jerk sometimes -- the dad next door who'd have no problem yelling at the kids in the party house to turn the music down, and no problem calling the cops.

    "He's very much a gentleman," Moriera says of Obama -- and not at all responsible for what she saw as the sexist treatment of her first-choice candidate, Hillary Clinton. But could he be too gentlemanly? She wonders: "Does he have the backbone to deal with the huge problems he'll have to face?" So far, he has just not filled her with confidence on that score. "Obama has been flip-flopping so much, I'm not sure about him. On eavesdropping, I was shocked," she says, referring to his recent Senate vote in support of the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Obama had promised he would help filibuster any FISA bill that gave immunity to telecommunications companies that had cooperated with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. But then, he went ahead and voted for just such a bill. "And if he did that," Moriera reasons, "he could do other things." Come November, she may reluctantly conclude that what she sees as McCain's strength is more important than his specific stands, many of which she disagrees with: "I'll have to see."

  • A chat with Portland’s Charlie Stephens about petrodollars and oil wars

    This is part of a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election.

    One thing I learned traveling around the country a couple of years ago, talking to voters for a political book I was working on, is that Americans tend to give their elected officials a super-size helping of benefit of the doubt.

    One night, I was in Suffolk, Va., having dinner with some active-duty Navy women -- the real "security moms" -- who were in between tours in the Persian Gulf. One of them, a young Republican named Elizabeth DeAngelo, remarked that the war in Iraq had had no effect on her political views, because she did not consider the decision to go to war a partisan matter. "Being in the military opens your eyes that it is dangerous out there," said DeAngelo, who watched the first "shock and awe" bombs fall from the deck the U.S.S. Kearsarge, "and you have to believe that no president would want to run the government into the ground, for their legacy, if nothing else. So if a Democrat did get elected, I wouldn't think, 'Oh, no!' I don't know if the reasons if we went over there were the right reasons. But even though I didn't like [President] Clinton as a person, I can't believe -- nobody, I think, would put several hundred thousand people in a conflict for oil. Even if it were Clinton, I wouldn't think that. I think they do what they think is right."

    A number of people I spoke to across the country made that same point -- that politics aside, no American president could possibly be that venal, or stoop so low as to put Americans in harm's way over a mere commodity. Much of the rest of the world does not have this kind of confidence in the best intentions of its leaders, but we do. Which is why we're still unsure about the "real reason" we went into Iraq. It's why most reporters find it easier to believe we wandered into this misadventure as the result of some Oedipal psychodrama in the Bush family, or plain incompetence. And it's why I had a really, really hard time hearing what Charlie Stephens had to tell me when I sat down with him in Portland, Ore., a couple of weeks ago.

  • Talking with voters in Portland about the environment and the election

    Portland. Photo: David Grant via Flickr

     

    This is part of a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election.

    Portland, Ore. -- Oh, the indignity of tooling around environmentally aware Portland in a big-dog SUV, in between conversations about the environment. Even the guy at the rental-car counter was apologetic: "I know," he said, when I gulped at the news that my economy car had been super-sized. "No one wants them, but we have to give them to somebody."

    Just as gay people grow up and move to San Francisco or New York, green people grow up and move here. Years before I began sorting bottles and cans on the other coast, my buddy who is a Kansan-turned-Oregonian was struggling to convey just how bad her new boss really was: "Melinda," she finally told me, "he does not even recycle."

    My friend's next-door neighbors are transplanted Texans, Linda d'Onofrio and Andrew Migliore, who as d'Onofrio says "came here for local produce and a forward way of thinking." Even so, it took them a while to settle in with their chosen tribe: "I didn't grow up around political correctness, and we had a hard time the first couple of years," says d'Onofrio. "We'd say tasteless things about everybody's race, religion, animals; we'd make kitty taco jokes" -- not widely appreciated by "people who will stop you on the street and tell you what they think of your Hummer." Now, though, this is home, and the whole moment is more subdued: "My sister's a true Communist who goes around the world teaching micro-banking, my brother's a true Fascist with his boots in the corner, and we used to have the best conversations, but all the fun has been sucked out of that. The conversation has stopped because it's not funny anymore; you can't make jokes about Abu Ghraib and melting ice caps."

  • Race mattered in the W.Va. primary, but will it keep mattering?

    This is the second in a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the election.

    Charleston, W.Va. -- According to the exit polls, I was hanging out with a bunch of racially challenged Hillary supporters at last night's victory party here.

    One in five West Virginia voters fessed up that race was an important factor in their choice of a candidate –- and they didn't mean they saw Obama's diverse heritage as a positive. How do we know that? Because of those who walked right up to pollsters and said out loud that race was the elephant in their donkey-party living room, 81 percent voted for Clinton. Not only that, but 7 percent of West Virginia voters went for John Edwards –- who ended his run decades ago, as measured in political time –- but was the only white dude still on the ballot. What does that tell us? Nothing we want to hear.

  • Talking with voters in the Mountain State

    This is the first in a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election.

    Photo: Wignut via Flickr
    Photo: Wignut

    Huntington, W.Va. -- Door-knocking for Barack Obama in a state where he expects to get stomped today has been kind of thankless for Pam Wonnell, a nurse and old friend of mine who moved here from Illinois last year for her husband's job in coal mining: "I am not feeling the love" while phone canvassing or standing on front porches watching the people inside pretend not to be home. "But I'm not quitting, 'cause I'm a fighter, like Hillary," she says, and laughs at her own joke. "Isn't that Hillary-ous?"

    Canvassing with her in her hilly, aerobically "butt-busting" neighborhood on the eve of the Democratic primary, though, one surprise is the can't-wait-for-November enthusiasm for Obama among ... Republicans? Hmm. Another is that even -- or perhaps especially -- in this coal-mining state, where billboards along I-64 scream, "Yes, Coal" and "Coal Keeps the Lights On," voters say they want to hear candidates talk more about the environment, not less.