Saturday, December 09, 2006

Column 86 (National) A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

As you can imagine, I found the results of the mid-term elections, in the words of that guy in the credit card commercials, “rewarding – very, very, very, rewarding.” As Frederic Hertzberg in the current New Yorker, “This election was a crushing rebuke to Bush and his party. The rest is interpretation. Nearly everyone agreed that public anger about the Iraq catastrophe was paramount. To the surprise of much of the political class, exit polls suggested that corruption was almost as formidable a factor, especially among Independents and disaffected Republicans.”

The spinmeisters on the Right are working overtime to put some lipstick on this pig, but clearly Bush has spent not only his supposed political capital, but that of a lot of other Republicans as well. Now the Democrats are in control of the Legislative Branch, and could be considered to have the edge in the race for the Presidency in 2008. Unfortunately, that consideration requires that we ignore some unpleasant realities about my party of choice.

Without stretching too much, one could make the case that the Democrats did not win the election so much as the Republicans lost it. The incompetence and corruption on the GOP side made it easy to run on a “we’re not them” platform, and while I wish it weren’t so, the Democrats did not have much more of a coherent story or message than they did in 2004. For the Dems to take advantage of their newfound political capital we will have to do more than clean things up over the next two years – we will have to find our ideological feet and get them solidly underneath us.

The key issues of the day are, for the most part, not very arresting or not ones on which the left and right disagree in compelling ways. The war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, and the only real issue is how to withdraw and how fast. Predictably Bush will find some way to get the GOP off the hook on this one over the next two years and, by referencing the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, defusing the war as a political issue. Minimum wage, gay marriage, the death tax do not admit of a clear political divide and in any case are not real “grabbers.”

There is, I think, an issue on which the two parties clearly divide and that is of sufficient importance and impact that the Democrats could build a platform around it, and that is the environment. At this point the scientific community is as unanimous as it can ever get on the issue of climate change. While pundits, columnists, and novelists who would be pundits insist the scientific evidence is equivocal, there has not been a single peer-reviewed scientific article that dissents from the view that the climate is changing in the direction of global warming and that that change is potentially calamitous. Even Bush has admitted that America’s addiction to fossil fuels, particularly oil, is dangerous, the Republican Party remains in thrall to oil interests and to vested big business interests in general.

So my recommendation to the Democrats, regardless of whom they run, is to start early and often to build a campaign around the environment – not spotted owls or endangered fish (though those are important also) but around energy policy, alternative energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and, yes, nuclear), and reversing global warming. That’s a horse (or a donkey) they can ride to the White House.

No comments: