Tag Archives: Republicans

Sad But True

Vox recently had an article detailing the environmental efforts of “subnational” units of government.

The actions being taken by a number of states and cities to curb greenhouse gases and slow climate change are impressive, and we should all be grateful that the anti-science, anti-humanity policies of our federal government are being countered, at least to some extent, by state and local units of government.

The article began, however, with a coy promise: to reveal the “very simple” political trick that cities and states can employ to pass sound environmental policies. It even titled the article “This one weird trick can help any state or city pass clean energy policy.”

Federal climate politics in the US remains as gridlocked as ever, but the past few years have seen a remarkable flourishing of climate and clean energy policy at the subnational level, in states and cities across the country.

This has given rise to all sorts of deep analysis — about the potential and limitations of states as laboratories of democracy, about the role of cities in the 21st century, about the ability of subnational actors to offset federal inaction — but, oddly, the simplest lesson of all often goes unstated.

In point of fact, all these subnational jurisdictions, for all their differences, used the same simple trick to achieve policy success.

What is that trick? Well, it’d be no fun if I just told you!

Instead, let’s run through a quick review of recent subnational policy progress on climate and clean energy. Perhaps, by the end of this list, if you squint just right, you’ll see the trick for yourself.

The article then proceeded to identify a number of places doing the heavy lifting: Washington state, where Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, working for the first time with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, passed a suite of ambitious bills; Nevada, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, working with Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, committed the state to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050;
Colorado, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, together with Democratic majorities in that state’s legislature, has passed what the article called “an astonishing suite of climate and clean energy bills.”

The article also noted progress in New Mexico, New Jersey and California, and listed encouraging deliberations in New York, Massachusetts and Maine.

And it wasn’t just states. As the article reported, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s Democratic city council unveiled “LA’s Green New Deal.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s Democratic council passed a sweeping set of climate bills, which would, among other things, target emissions from existing buildings. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Democratic city council passed a bill committing the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

The article detailed similar successes in Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana, Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

So what do all these jurisdictions have in common? What “trick” enabled these state governments to address the threat of climate change so aggressively?

The trick is: elect Democrats.

There are many differences among these jurisdictions in size, ambition, and policy details, but one thing they all have in common is that Democrats have the power to pass policy despite Republican opposition. It’s not that no Republicans voted for any of these measures — there were R votes here and there, so some could charitably be called “bipartisan” — but that Republicans were not in a position to block any of them.

Last year, Nevada had a Republican governor; he vetoed a clean energy mandate. This year it has a Democratic governor; he signed it.

That’s how it works, in practice. When Democrats take control, in numbers that preclude Republican veto power, they pass thoughtful, ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the clean energy transition. Where Republicans have the power to block such policies, they do. There are exceptions — all hail Illinois— but they are comparatively rare.

Perhaps climate and clean energy shouldn’t be partisan. But at the present moment, purely as a descriptive matter, they are partisan.

If you care about the environment,  the simplest and most reliable way to support sane environmental policies is to vote Democratic.

Of course, that’s also the “trick” if you care about civil rights, the Constitution, the rule of law…

 

Odds and Ends

Today, rather than discussing a single topic, I thought I’d post a couple of observations that are related to some of the previous month’s discussions.

Russia. A fairly common response to the media’s focus on the Russia investigation–especially but not exclusively from supporters of Trump and/or the GOP–is that it is unlikely that Russian interference made a difference in the outcome, so why the big obsession with it?

Unless it turns out that Russia hackers actually changed vote totals, I tend to agree that the efforts probably didn’t change the election results. That said, let me respond to the “then why the fuss” question with an analogy.

Let’s say you own a company. Your internal auditor comes to you with evidence that one of the bookkeepers tried to embezzle from the corporation’s account, but was unsuccessful. Would you breathe a sigh of relief, and go about your business as usual? Or would prudence dictate that you investigate in order to find out what was attempted and why, so that you could 1) add safeguards to be sure the account is protected in the future; 2) determine whether the bookkeeper was acting on her own or in concert with other employees; and 3) inquire into management practices that may have given the impression that embezzlement was possible–or that so angered an otherwise good employee that she felt no compunction trying to steal from the company?

I should also note that success of a venture isn’t the key to whether it’s right or wrong. (If you try to kill someone and fail, you’re still guilty of attempted murder.)

Joe Donnelly. Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly is a big disappointment. (Not as big a disappointment as Fifth District Representative Susan Brooks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Even conceding that he’s an Indiana Democrat and thus will need independent and even a few Republican votes, he’s been really bad on issues I care a lot about. That said, I will still vote for him in November, and you should too.  We don’t get to choose between perfect and not-perfect. Mike Braun, the Republican candidate, is dramatically, unacceptably worse. But even if Braun weren’t a self-satisfied, self-described “Trumper,” a vote for him would be a vote for Mitch McConnell–aka the most evil man in America– to continue leading the Senate.

The odds of the Democrats winning control of the Senate aren’t good, but if there is a blue “wave,” it is possible. In order for that to happen, however, we have to elect every Senate candidate who has a “D” next to his or her name–and that definitely includes Joe Donnelly. (And to be fair, he does support a progressive agenda about half the time–which is half more than Braun would do.) Think of it this way: a vote for Donnelly is really a vote against Mitch McConnell.

The Democrats and America’s myriad imperfections. A number of commenters to this blog have railed against the imperfections and misdeeds of the Democratic Party. I agree with some–hell, a lot– of those criticisms, just as I agree that any accurate history of this country documents a whole host of failures to live up to our national ideals. I also recognize that today’s America is more plutocracy than liberal democracy, and that needs to change.

What really drives me nuts about purists, however, is the naiveté. (Assuming, that is, that they truly want to effect change, and aren’t just satisfied parading their moral superiority.) In real life, making the perfect the enemy of the good simply rewards the bad. (See discussion of Donnelly election, above.) The Democrats are very imperfect. Today’s GOP is many multiples worse. Our choice is between not-so-good and demonstrably horrible.

Any honest look at history confirms that sustainable progress is incremental. If we can move from horrible to not-so-great (but a hell of a lot better) in November, we can get to work making the systemic and cultural changes that need to occur if we are to have any hope of salvaging democratic governance–not to mention the planet, the economy, the  justice system and public education.

If the purists stay home, and we don’t dislodge the horribles, we’re toast.

Two Different Worlds…

Some of you reading this post may remember an old love song–I believe it was sung by Nat  King Cole–in which he rejected warnings by an unidentified “they,” to the effect that he and his love came from “two different worlds.” At the end of the song, he promises that their two different worlds will be one.

I’d say their chances were better than those of contemporary Republicans and Democrats.

Over the past few years, a steady stream of research has documented the growth of America’s partisan polarization. Today’s Republicans and Democrats would be more upset if their children married someone of the other party than if they married someone of another race or religion. Facebook and Twitter conversations are filled with expressions of incomprehension (WTF!) of positions taken by the other party.

Now, the Brookings Institution has come up with another indicator that Rs and Ds really do live in “two different worlds.” The researchers were exploring one of the thorniest issues raised by “school choice”–whether, as many of us worry– parents opting for privatized schools see education as a consumer good rather than a public good, thus privileging the inculcation of personal skills over democratic ones.

In holding schools more directly accountable to parents, school choice reforms reduce the influence of the democratic structures and processes that govern traditional public schools. For example, being more responsive to parents generally means being less responsive to school boards. This can have important implications if parents’ desires for their own children’s schools differ from the broader public’s desires for its education system. For instance, schools may look different under school choice reforms if—as is often argued—parents are preoccupied with getting their own children ahead, wanting schools to prepare their children for college and career success at the expense of serving more collective interests for social, political, civic, and economic health.

Questions about how parents’ and the public’s desires for schools differ are among the richest questions surrounding school choice reforms. They are also among the least explored empirically. We recently released a study looking at what parents and the public want from schools. Instead of finding the parents-public distinction we expected, we found a Democrat-Republican contrast we had not considered.

The results were very different from the researchers’ expectations. Parents and the broader public prioritized the same goals–a balance between the personal and the public.

Given these similarities, we wondered who—if anyone—is particularly drawn to “private success.” Did any subgroup of respondents want schools to prioritize students’ private interests over more collective, societal interests?

We ran a logistic regression model to examine which, if any, respondent background characteristics were associated with choosing “private success” as the most important goal. We included all of the usual respondent characteristics in the model: gender, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, age, political affiliation, and parent status. Only one was a significant predictor: Republican respondents were much more likely than Democratic respondents to want schools to prioritize “private success.”

It’s a shame there are no earlier studies that might serve as benchmarks, allowing us to see whether and how these and other attitudes prevalent in today’s GOP differ from those of previous Republicans.

In any event, the pressing question we face now is how to make those “two different worlds” into one–or at the very least, make them overlap.

 

 

About White Populism

A few days back, I posted a blog praising George W. Bush’s recent speech decrying Trump’s bigotry. The responses were varied–some agreed that such a message coming from a former Republican President whose own tenure was unsuccessful (to put it mildly) was welcome. Others recited the multiple misdeeds of his administration as proof that nothing he could ever do should be considered praiseworthy.

There is a degree of partisanship that makes its adherents loathe to agree with any sentiment, no matter how anodyne, coming from the other “team”–a dogmatism that makes them unwilling to believe that agreement by one of “them” with a position of “ours” could possibly be authentic, let alone grounds for amicable discussion.

That’s too bad, because those partisans will miss an essay in the National Review that is well worth reading. I would be surprised if thoughtful political liberals wouldn’t approve of most of the points made.

A couple of examples:

Conservatives have a weakness for that “acting white” business because we are intellectually invested in emphasizing the self-inflicted problems of black America, for rhetorical and political reasons that are too obvious to require much elaboration…

Republicans, once the party of the upwardly mobile with a remarkable reflex for comforting the comfortable, have written off entire sections of the country — including the bits where most of the people live — as “un-American.” Silicon Valley and California at large, New York City and the hated Acela corridor, and, to some extent, large American cities categorically are sneered at and detested. There is some ordinary partisanship in that, inasmuch as the Democrats tend to dominate the big cities and the coastal metropolitan aggregations, but it isn’t just that. Conservatives are cheering for the failure of California and slightly nonplussed that New York City still refuses to regress into being an unlivable hellhole in spite of the best efforts of its batty Sandinista mayor. Not long ago, to be a conservative on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was the most ordinary thing in the world. Now that address would be a source of suspicion. God help you if you should ever attend a cocktail party in Georgetown, the favorite dumb trope of conservative talk-radio hosts.

We’ve gone from William F. Buckley Jr. to the gentlemen from Duck Dynasty. Why?

American authenticity, from the acting-even-whiter point of view, is not to be found in any of the great contemporary American business success stories, or in intellectual life, or in the great cultural institutions, but in the suburban-to-rural environs in which the white underclass largely makes its home — the world John Mellencamp sang about but understandably declined to live in.

Shake your head at rap music all you like: When’s the last time you heard a popular country song about finishing up your master’s in engineering at MIT?

There is much, much more, and I strongly encourage readers to click through and read the entire essay–not just because so many of the writer’s observations are dead-on, but because those on the political Left who identify strongly with other progressives and with the resistance to Trump and Trumpism need to remember that genuine conservatives also disdain the know-nothings and bigots who have appropriated the conservative label.

Before the GOP was taken over by conspiracy theorists, racists, religious fundamentalists and Big Money, principled Democratic and Republican political figures used to engage in civil conversation and even productive policymaking.

We will never recover the art of civil conversation, let alone policymaking intended to serve the public good, if we refuse to see any merit in anyone who doesn’t agree with us 100%. That sort of political intransigence–prominent among the GOP base and so-called “Freedom Caucus”–is what has destroyed the Republican party. Democrats shouldn’t emulate it.

Read the damn essay.

 

So You Want Your Country Back?

Yesterday, I attended Indianapolis’ March on Washington–one of the “sister” marches held all over the world. As anyone who listens to the news or has seen the photographs already knows, turnout was massive everywhere. At the Statehouse in deep-red Indiana, the crowd was huge; I’m told it was easily the largest demonstration in Indiana in the past twenty years.

There were lots of clever and poignant signs, but the one that summed up America’s situation for me read “Left or Right, We Know He’s Wrong.”

This was not a normal partisan election. It wasn’t a contest between candidates with different policy preferences, a contest between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. It was a battle between White Supremacists led by a dangerously unstable demagogue and time-honored, inclusive American values.

Trump has no political philosophy–he  isn’t remotely like the Republicans I served with “back in the day.” But then, most of those who call themselves Republicans today have nothing in common with the Grand Old Party I grew up with.

These rabid ideologues aren’t conservatives; they are a collection of reactionaries, oligarchs and bigots. Whenever I hear one of them piously intoning “I want my country back,” I want to respond “Well, I want the real Republican Party back!”

This New Yorker article made me nostalgic for the party I used to know….

The article was about Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the EPA, but it began by harking back to Bill Ruckelshaus, the first EPA Director. He was from Indianapolis, he was admirable, and he was typical of the GOP of which I was then a part.

In the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. He and his colleague Gerald Hansler, an environmental engineer, began touring the state in a white panel truck. They collected water samples and snapped photographs of fish corpses—bluegills, sunfish, and perch, poisoned by the effluent that gushed from industrial outfalls. Then they wrote up the evidence and brought charges against those responsible. Yet, however diligently they worked, their efforts were often regarded with suspicion by Indiana’s governor, who wanted to keep businesses from moving to states with even laxer environmental standards. “I just saw how powerless the states were to act,” Ruckelshaus recalled.

Ruckelshaus brought this lesson with him to Washington, D.C., in 1970, when President Richard Nixon appointed him to set up and run the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From a modest cluster of rooms on L Street, Ruckelshaus led the agency in its first swift actions. After less than two weeks, he announced that the E.P.A. planned to sue the cities of Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit unless they made a serious effort to stop polluting their rivers with sewage. Later, he refused to give automakers an extension on their mandate to install catalytic converters in all new vehicles—a requirement that eventually resulted in large cuts to toxic, smog-forming emissions. And, in 1972, Ruckelshaus’s E.P.A. banned most uses of the pesticide DDT, a move that helped save a national icon, the American bald eagle, from extinction. More than four decades on, the E.P.A.’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act has averted millions of cases of respiratory disease and continues to save hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, according to a series of agency analyses. For the most part, urban rivers are no longer cesspools, and beaches once fouled with sewage are swimmable. Lake Erie is troubled but no longer deemed dead, as it was in the sixties. Lead levels in the coastal waters off Southern California have dropped a hundredfold.

Ruckelshaus, who is now eighty-four, has watched the ascent of Donald Trump with some trepidation. In August, he and William Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under President George H. W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton, lambasting Trump as ignorant of the G.O.P.’s “historic contributions to science-driven environmental policy.”

Science-driven policy. How quaint!

When I consider the Republicans I knew, like Ruckelshaus and Dick Lugar, and those I worked with, like Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut and Indiana Governor Robert Orr, I can’t help thinking that it isn’t just Trump. Appalling as he is, he’s the consequence of a party that has been transformed by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the pathetic group of bigots and know-nothings who comprise what has been called the “lunatic caucus.”

We aren’t going to get our real country back–the America of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the America that welcomed “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”–unless we get a reasonable, respectable Republican party back.

The sign said it all: it isn’t left versus right. It’s right versus wrong. It’s the America I thought I inhabited versus a bleak and unfamiliar dystopia–and I want my America back.