Additional Thoughts on Climate Change, Electoral Politics
I have a couple of follow ups to recent posts. First, today’s episode of Up With Chris confirms my fear that commentators would fall into the trap of believing that the mere fact of Sandy and its impact would have an enduring effect on the agenda by pushing climate change onto it. In what may have been the most bizarre moment of TV I’ve witnesses in some time, Representative Ed Markey suggested it would be similar to the positive policy impact of the BP Gulf spill. That did not for the same reason that Katrina did not – because many advocates thought the event did their job for them, and as a result they did not do their job. Their job is to pressure politicians to discuss and act when it prefers not to.
Second, I want to clarify what I meant by policy in my critique of the value of election forecasting. I don’t mean the way policy is typically used, especially by Democrats, to appeal to small segments of voters and avoid turning off independents / centrists. I also don’t mean making broad undefined claims, like the idea of the War on Women, which tend to oversell the differences between the parties while obscuring the real policy differences that do exist.
I mean connecting with people where they are, with authentic, two-way communication, using easily understandable policies, and seriously committing to those people and ideas with the same energy and excitement after elections as before. I mean policies and arguments for them that clearly convey your values. For me, this means the core idea that all people are fully human, deserving of respect and dignity, and therefore broad rights, and a government that both protects them and ensures opportunity for them.
Earlier, I linked to a story about Bernie Sanders to illustrate this. It noted that Sanders’ campaign has been knocking on doors throughout the state not simply asking for their vote but to mobilizing people to town halls where he could speak directly to voters.
A week before the election, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had run no attack ads. In fact, he hadn’t run any TV commercials. He was still speaking in full sentences, not soundbites; still inviting voters to ask complicated questions on controversial issues—and still answering with big, bold proposals to address climate change, really reform healthcare with a single-payer “Medicare for All” program, steer money away from the Pentagon and toward domestic jobs initiatives, and counter the threat of plutocracy posed by Citizens United by amending the Constitution. Rejecting the empty partisanship of the pre-election frenzy, Sanders was ripping the austerity agenda of Romney and Paul Ryan, while warning that Obama and too many Democrats were inclining toward an austerity-lite “grand bargain” that would make debt reduction a greater priority than saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about, and there is no reason others couldn’t do what Sanders does. In fact, others have done it before. There are reasons why politicians prefer big money, big media politics. That it’s the only way to win is not one of them.
*I actually think overly complicated policies also don’t tend to work as well as more straightforward ones.