Reading the newspapers these days always reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The American President. President Andrew Shepherd finally addresses the press after countless assaults on him from his opponent, Bob Rumson:
For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being President of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I’ve been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character… America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight… I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.
Fifteen years after the movie was released, these words still hold true. Bob Rumson may not have been a real person, but the kind of politicking he embodied is still common place today. That’s a big reason why global warming deniers, largely funded by the fossil fuel industry and big corporations that stand to profit by doing nothing, have been so effective at misinforming the public into thinking that the science is so much less clear than it really is. Here’s how it works. These powerful special interests and corporations scare people into thinking the science is some kind of conspiracy. They appeal to less informed people who have lost their jobs or are scared about losing their jobs in this tumultuous time. Then they misdirect their anger and resentment telling them who and what’s to blame -except since it’s them (and they obviously don’t want to be accountable for their actions), they blame their political enemies like “crazy environmentalists who just want to control you by taxing you.”
Without the real science on their side, these forces have pretended as though the science is more questionable than it actually is or have appealed to fake arguments like the one about Californians having to choose between business and the environment. Texas company Valero, for instance, is currently financing a campaign in California to abuse the initiative process in an effort to kill our landmark global warming law, AB 32, since it promotes green jobs (watch the initiative and notice how you won’t see them identified by the campaign because they don’t want people to know they’re behind it). Meanwhile, Climategate gave them the perfect fuel for their fire; they hedged their bets (and correctly so) that people (especially the corporate media) weren’t actually going to investigate for themselves what really happened. By now we’ve all heard the talking points about how some scientists were trying to fudge with the math or the statistics. We were given quotes taken out of context and some that were fairly damning even in context. We were told that this was the proof that global warming was a sham by scientists and environmentalists to control the world. But that’s not what Climategate was about, and anyone paying very close attention to it knew that. Even George Monbiot, the reporter who broke the Climategate story acknowledges that the scandal hurt, but in no way does it even come close to revealing some sort of larger conspiracy.
It’s gotten to the point that denying the science is a litmus test in the Republican Party. On Monday, GOP gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner sparred over their stances on AB 32, California’s landmark global warming law, by trying to outflank each other on who would do more to set it back. Meanwhile, even popular out of state Republicans like Marco Rubio and Tim Pawlenty who have previously supported efforts tackling greenhouse gas emissions have backtracked because it’s a popular position within the party. See the thing is, supporting a popular stance even if you don’t believe it will help you win elections.
But Andrew Shepherd is right. America’s not easy, and America is advanced citizenship. It’s not enough to sit around and watch what happens by reading the paper and the blogs. It’s not enough to just click a few email forms and sign an online petition. It’s not even enough to just vote on election day -voting is not just a right, it’s a duty. Because you know what? The people representing these special interests, polluters, and corrupt corporations have already been doing that and more. In fact, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on lobbyists who dedicate their livelihoods to speaking for their clients -and not you.
If we are to ever solve the greatest problem of our lifetimes, and overcome the special interests working to stop us, we have to want it -and want it bad, because they have already been putting up a fight. We have to be as active if not more so than the forces spending a fortune on lobbyists who spend day in and day out of Sacramento, Washington, and anywhere else that they need to go to make sure things stay the same.
And it could start today. Start by making a contribution to CLCV, it doesn’t even have to be much. Next, pick up the phone, and call your legislators (in your city, your county, in Sacramento, and in DC) and tell them to support legislation that will seriously fight global warming. Then pick a candidate you believe in, and find out what you can do to help them get elected this June. And tell a friend about it. Then go do it and get them to join you. That’s how you win.
Get involved. As my favorite progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann likes to say, “Democracy begins with you. Tag, you’re it!”