I'm reading things like this and this and I'm struck by a stark difference in how the two parties respond to crisis. Thinking back to 9/11 when the Democrats all rallied around the president and backed him nearly unanimously, or later during the Iraq debate when they publicly agonized and worried out loud about whether or not they could remain viable as national candidates if they voted against it, I realized that one of the reasons the Republicans seem to get the benefit of being seen as "principled" is that they never, ever bend to the zeitgeist against their will, no matter is going on. And the Democrats almost always do.
We are witnessing the most horrific oil spill catastrophe in history. It is ongoing, nobody knows if they will be able to stop it, even months from now. It's impossible to estimate the damage to the environment. The public horrified and has never been so critical of the oil industry or more worried about the future. And all of this is happening within the knowledge that our dependence on fossil fuel is drawing us into wars around the world and that global warming is reaching a tipping point.
Common sense would seem to tell you that there has never been a worse time to defend the oil industry or obstruct a clean energy policy. You would think politicians would be petrified to face voters as supporters of those who are to blame for this unprecedented catastrophe and that it would be very easy to garner a super majority, a la The Patriot Act, to get something passed. Instead, Lisa Murkowski --- with the help of key Democrats --- is going to try to prevent the president from using executive power to enhance the Clean Air Act, and Huckleberry Graham has just made a pivot and become a global warming skeptic. None of them seem to have any fear of being seen as unresponsive by the public or being ostracized by erstwhile political friends.
Why is that? I'm not convinced it's all about money, although that certainly enters into it, particularly at a time of great economic stress. These politicians also seem to be very confident that they will not be held accountable by the voters, the press and most importantly, their political opposition. Yet those who may have privately been skeptics about the wars were utterly convinced that they would be signing their political death warrant if they opposed them. It's an asymmetry of political will that's quite astonishing.
Perhaps war and environmental disaster are so different that the political calculus isn't comparable. But this spill is so bad that I actually think it's about a close as you can get. And yet, the right is doubling down on their head-in-the-sand agenda (demanding more drilling!) and the left seems to be impotent to do anything about it. If the environmental agenda can't gain ground in this moment, and can't raise the specter of electoral punishment for whorishness and blind indifference, it's hard to believe that we will ever be able to deal with climate change --- or anything else.