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How can I put this delicately? Let’s try this: Bill Scher’s recent Common Dreams article, “The World-Changing Choice between Sanders and Clinton on the Climate,” started out by seducing me and left me feeling raped. Which is to say that Scher’s piece, like all effective spin doctoring, forcefully combined reader seduction with insidious lasting damage to readers’ psyches.
Now, I don’t like to attribute bad motives to virtual strangers, and, except for his being a senior writer for Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), I really know little about Bill Scher. But Scher, by his writing for CAF, is, at day’s end, committed to that repository of ever-weakening New Deal good intentions deeply corrupted by corporate money that’s today’s Democratic Party. So, the question of Scher’s motives recalls the lyric of a once-popular song: “I can’t help but have my suspicion/ ’Cause I ain’t quite as dumb as I seem.” Scher’s motives really can’t be much better than the corrupt—in many ways indefensible—party he has engaged himself to defend.
Not being “quite as dumb as I seem”—because the gang rape of community rights and environment known as fracking provided me swift political education—I was only very briefly seduced and never personally in danger of mind rape by Bill Scher. But with the general public resembling convent-sheltered virgins on all things climate (with government, industry, and media conspiring, like sex-education-hating parents, to keep them that way), a large sector of the voting public risks seduction by the progressive-sounding likes of Bill Scher. A seduction that can’t end well—particularly for a livable human climate. So if I write with the outrage of a father defending his daughter from a particularly seductive rapist, well, in a very real sense I am.
And Scher’s piece appearing in a trusted progressive source like Common Dreams only worsens matters. It’s as if the alluring prospective rapist were recommended as boyfriend material for your daughter by your lifelong best friend. Since all the circumstances conspire to create a dangerous false sense of confidence, it becomes imperative, upon recognizing the danger, to become proactive as all hell in fighting it. That’s why I especially insist on rebutting Scher’s insidiously dangerous piece.
So just what dangerous seduction by Scher has provoked my outraged comparison? It’s this: that his title captures perhaps the most important truth of this election—that there is a world-changing difference on climate between Sanders and Clinton—and misleadingly furthers that seduction by using a photo of Sanders as its teaser illustration. So, naturally, readers are prompted to expect that, if they wish to make a world-changing difference for climate, they had better vote for Bernie Sanders. (Which is, by the way, the essential truth—as I hope to demonstrate.)
But instead Scher treats readers to a species of doubt creation analogous to mainstream media’s doubt creation about climate change itself: that while there’s clearly some momentous difference between Sanders and Clinton on climate, voters must decide for themselves who’s better—as if the compelling evidence offered by leading climate scientists and activists were nonexistent, and as if it were simply a matter for open debate. When in reality, for those possessing the relevant evidence, the question is settled: Sanders’ climate policy is immeasurably superior to Clinton’s (see here and here). Scher—like the pro-Clinton Democratic National Committee, which has zero interest in the climate debate Sanders has called for—is utterly unwilling to explore that evidence.
But, beyond creating the illusion that there’s a serious debate (among those in the know), about the relative merits of Sanders’ and Clinton’s climate policies, Scher does something worse: he sneakily tilts the balance scale in favor of Clinton. How? By relying on the keen ears of those attuned to “dog-whistle politics” to pick up on his rhetoric—exactly that used by establishment Democrats strongly favoring Clinton. But in this case, Scher’s “dog whistle” language is not simply a hidden message for Clinton supporters incomprehensible to the general public, but an almost subliminal rhetorical manipulation of a general public already bombarded with pro-Hillary talking points. The best—and most damning—example is Scher’s framing of the climate-policy difference between Sanders and Clinton as follows: “The pragmatic vs. idealistic divide is a hallmark of the Democratic primary and the party itself.” If ever any loaded language was meant for the party establishment “dogs”—and for a general public brainwashed by those dogs—it’s this particular framing by Scher. A framing which, in this case has virtually zero rational validity, but which perfectly fulfills Goebbels’ model for propaganda: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
There could be no bigger lie—especially in a climate context—than that Clinton is pragmatic and Bernie a mere idealist. In fact, as effective climate action goes, all of the idealism and all of the pragmatism is squarely on Bernie’s side. Clinton, whose commitment to climate action is perfectly summarized by the futile COP21 Paris climate conference, a blending of highfalutin rhetoric and meaningless policy gestures rightly pilloried by top climatologist James Hansen as “really a total fraud,” is both corrupt and a dreamer, neither idealistic nor pragmatic. At least, that is, if your idea of climate pragmatism is actually saving the climate. However, she’s very pragmatic if your idea of climate pragmatism—an idea she shares with most of the establishment types in Paris—is presenting a reassuring charade of bold action while actually dragging your feet. Which is the establishment Democratic model of climate pragmatism.
I mentioned the climate “foot-dragging” metaphor for a reason: because foot-dragging, as Democrats’ climate modus operandi, provides such a vivid, memorable contrast with climate “knuckle-dragging” by Republicans. In those two patented party stances—Democratic foot-dragging and Republican knuckle-dragging—lies the whole tragedy of U.S. climate inaction and the explanation why, as long as the U.S. is a major influence, global climate talks must remain forever ineffectual. Unless, of course, our nation embraces the bold climate course outlined by Bernie Sanders.
Beyond being catchy rhetoric, the “foot-draggers vs. knuckle-draggers” comparison offers the perfect frame for exploding Scher’s misguided notion that Clinton’s climate incrementalism or reach across party lines has any value remotely comparable to Sanders’ bold climate action. Essentially, both parties play a farce where foot-dragging Democrats divert attention from the radical inadequacy of their own climate policies by constantly pointing fingers at the science-denying idiocy of knuckle-dragging Republicans. And the climate-illiterate public, with a majority wanting some climate action but addicted to fossil fuels, is the tailor-made audience for this farce. So in fact, the Clinton “incrementalism” whose value Scher so touts is already in place—and achieving disastrous results: Republicans accept no pro-climate compromise at all, and Clinton-style Democrats are secretly delighted, having neither to upset fossil fuel industry donors nor seek sacrifice from a populace addicted to fossil fuels.
In general, but above all in climate matters, we should be deeply suspicious of reaches across the Congressional aisle. Where legislation furthering the common good—say, on gun control, health insurance, or climate action—is concerned, they’re sheer exercises in futility, since today’s Republican Party, as noted by leading scholars, is no longer a real political party but an insurgency against the public-interest function of government. But as regards other legislation—say, that benefitting only oligarchs or the Deep State—there’s far too much bipartisanship, and it’s a virtual conspiracy against the common good. It’s in that context we should consider Hillary Clinton’s pragmatism, her ability to reach across the aisle and “get things done.” Where they’re useful things (like health insurance or environmental regulation), Clinton will meet the same unbending, last-ditch Republican opposition Obama has. But where they’re harmful things (like another war or more unregulated fracking), Clinton will be as wildly successful as a drug dealer selling a junkie his fix. And for pretty much the same reason: it’s infinitely easier to “push” widely desired bad policy than unwanted good policy. And that’s the full measure of Clinton’s likely “pragmatic” success in the face of today’s Republicans.
And if the “success” is at prolonging or starting new wars—a Clinton specialty—that success will be doubly harmful to climate: because peace is a precondition of global climate action, and because our military is the world’s leading organizational burner of fossil fuels. Bipartisan success at starting wars is the very opposite of climate pragmatism.
By creating the impression that readers are simply on their own to decide which of two radically different climate policies—Sanders’ boldness or Clinton’s incrementalism—is preferable, Scher sleazily conveys the impression that world-leading climate activists and scientists haven’t already weighed in on the question. In fact, Bill McKibben, who generally avoids signs of political favor, spoke at Sanders’ campaign launch, not Clinton’s. Shortly thereafter, he published a scolding open letter lecturing Clinton on why climate activists so distrust her. And Naomi Klein, McKibben’s close climate action associate (both are on 350.org’s board), carried an article touting Sanders as the U.S. “climate justice candidate” on her blog The Leap. Lastly—and probably most importantly—top-notch climatologist James Hansen referred to our nation’s gung-ho replacement of coal by fracked gas (the same policy for which Clinton was a global cheerleader as Secretary of State) as “screwing your children and grandchildren.” Sanders, by contrast, is an ardent fracking opponent.
Scher, in citing one purported climate advantage Clinton has over Sanders, says the following: “If you want a presidential candidate who has thought through how to best communicate to swing voters how a clean energy-fueled America will help, not hurt, economic growth, Hillary Clinton is probably your best bet.” Does that “clean-fueled America” Scher cites include a national fracking surge unsupported by climate science but only by industry hype? Especially when the methane leaks that so concern climatologists like Hansen consistently prove worse than EPA expectations? And when Republicans’ Koch-funded opposition to all fossil fuel regulation offers no prospect of fixing them? Inquiring minds want to know.
In short, Clinton’s vaunted “pragmatism” is simply the ease of uniting spineless Beltway politicians and fossil-fuel-addicted Americans behind the catastrophic “all of the above” policies our nation is already pursuing. Her vaunted “reach across the aisle” will prove utterly futile in matters that protect climate, and richly successful in matters that harm it. All of which prove Naomi Klein prescient in arguing that only a coordinated package of policies usually associated with progressives—global peace, a solid social safety net, equitably distributed wealth, racial and gender equality, and transparent, democratic government—can assure the national and international cooperation needed to meet our global climate emergency. Of electable U.S. presidential candidates (Martin O’Malley simply isn’t electable), only Bernie Sanders comes close to offering such a package of policies. And fortunately, such policies poll well—even with voters who’d be loath to call themselves “progressives”; hence his appeal even to Republican voters disgusted with the science-denying, xenophobic oligarch tool their party has become. Sanders could become a new FDR, sweeping progressives into lasting power and today’s Republicans into the dustbin of history. Frankly, it’s hard to see any hope for climate if he doesn’t.
Since I just cited Naomi Klein’s prescience about the requisites of climate action, I can do no better than cite her fiery speech about the criminal inadequacy of the Paris climate agreement. Just listen to Klein’s passionate words and ask yourself, “Which candidate—Sanders or Clinton—shares Klein’s ‘fire in the belly’ about saving the climate?” Given the compelling evidence of that speech, perhaps the whole foregoing article was unnecessary. Writer Samuel Johnson, opposing the philosopher George Berkeley, who denied the reality of material things, once kicked a stone and said, “Thus I refute Berkeley.” Maybe Klein’s speech is the lone solid “kick” I needed to refute Scher.