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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 03, 2014

 
I don't want this to work. But I also hope it does.

by David Atkins

Yesterday Digby highlighted an overlooked but terrifying new phenomenon in politics: the rise of the mega-donors as their own singular driving force. In the past political parties would stand for things, and big money donors would align themselves on either side (or both) depending on their interests, and use the corrupting power of money to carve out their own special exemptions here and there.

That's all standard political corruption. But this new Koch model is something altogether different: donors don't just help their preferred cause and get special favors. Increasingly in the modern Republican Party the big donors are the party. Much of the new Objectivist slant in today's GOP is partly the reaction of a cornered animal to the decline of the middle class. But it can't be overlooked that the Party may become more Objectivist simply to reflect the image of its biggest mega-donors.

That's a scary thought even to the most jaded political observer.

In that vein, the the rise of climate activist Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer is equal cause for hope and concern:

A recent Democratic fund-raiser at billionaire Tom Steyer’s home amounted to a summit between Washington’s liberal elite and San Francisco’s climate intelligencia.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, six other senators, and a 2014 Senate candidate took in views of the Golden Gate Bridge with former vice president Al Gore and some of the nation’s richest environmentalist donors.

The $400,000 fund-raiser, held for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, included remarks from Gore, who said the party needs to make global warming a central issue during the midterms, participants said. And Gore called Steyer, who has vowed to raise at least $100 million,”Mr. Tipping Point."

‘‘How do you inject this into the debate in a meaningful way?’’ Steyer said in an interview during a visit to Washington, where he lobbied a gathering of Democratic governors. ‘‘That changes what can happen in Washington, D.C.’’

With the end of President Obama’s tenure now in sight, wealthy environmentalists are pushing Democrats to take bolder positions on climate change — vowing to emphasize the issue in swing-state contests and threatening to withhold money from candidates who support the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

In the Senate, Reid has pledged to allot time to anyone who wants to discuss climate change at party lunches or on the Senate floor. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, a Democrat, is laying plans for an all-night talkathon on the subject.
Climate activists are often pigeon-holed as "pet issue" people. But as someone who adamantly believes that climate change is by far the biggest, most consequential issue facing humanity bar none, it's no "pet" to me. When historians look back at us 200 years from now, I firmly believe they're likely to care about little else than what we did (or did not do) on this issue.

In that sense, I hope that Tom Steyer can help shake a sleepy Democratic Party out of its stupor to become much more forceful on this issue. After all, if we're going to allow billionaires to dictate public policy, we might as well have a few on the side of the angels.

On the other hand, if the Steyer effect does start producing radical, noticeable changes in Democratic politics, it will become increasingly obvious that nothing will matter more than the movement to drive big money out of politics entirely, and that the Left won't be able to hope to make real progress on issues most billionaires don't care about unless we do something big about campaign finance.

Time will tell.


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