Like you all, we were a bit busy with the elections. We geeked out by making our own map of contested states and watching the dominoes fall almost entirely to the blue side. That’s right! Dems took a majority (and then some more) in the House and have a narrow 51-49 lead in Senate seats.
The Sierra Club called the elections a victory for the environment. (They’re especially happy to see Rich Pombo go down in flames.) We hope they’re right. But we have reservations.
Our own brand of amateur political analysis reads the political scenario as a fork in the road for Democrats.
On one hand, they have control of both houses, and they could (if they were both smart and brave) move a lot of smart ideas forward. They talked a lot about renewable energy and clean energy in their campaigns. Ideas for reducing sprawl and for shifting away from endless car-centered suburbs are catching on at state and local levels. Bush may still be President, but hey, the Dems pushed Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Act through despite Nixon being in the Oval Office.
But on the other hand, everybody knows the Dems came to power on a tide of dissatisfaction with Bush and with Republican misbehavior. Plus, Democrats are famous for not having a platform unless absolutely forced to do so. Some other points are clear:
- This anti-Republican tide will have abated by ’08, and the Dems will almost definitely hand the Senate back over if they don’t win the Presidency. They’re not likely to take risks.
- This was an anti-Republican reaction, not a left-turn in public thinking.
- These aren’t the ’70’s dems that passed the great green laws of our time. These are people chosen not for their policies but because they could win. Rahm Emanuel and the DNC went looking for winners, not party-liners. So that means plenty of middle-road or conservative democrats with no particular sense of historical connection to the party that passed those protective pillars.
- Given the lack of mandate (“the other guys suck” is not a mandate, however much the other guys did actually suck), the worries already about ceding back ground in ’08, and general Democratic hemming and hawing on environmental issues anyway, a green agenda is neither a safe expectation for voters to have nor a risk-free move for Democratic leaders.
- In all this “new energy policy” talk, did anyone — anyone — mention CAFE standards? We didn’t hear it. Auto mileage should be issue #1 in both a reduced-dependence-on-foreign-oil strategy and in a reduce-global-warming-emissions strategy. Instead, it’s nowhere, and that speaks volumes.
What we can bank on: the removal of anti-environmental crusaders like Pombo, Duncan Hunter, Ted Stevens and their ilk from committee chairs will definitely ease the pressure to actively reduce protections and weaken set-asides.
What we can’t bank on: Any real extension of protections, set-asides, standards, or even improvements in funding for chronically under-funded agencies that enforce our environmental protections now.
The Democratic leadership, not the body of members, will push an environmental agenda, or nobody will. The public is no more excited about environmental issues than before; the election success was a result of the Dems moving to the right, not about voters moving left. Greens have to accept (if they haven’t already) that they’re a minority not just in America but in their own party.
(Thanks to Sandy Huffaker for the cartoon — see more of his work here)