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Hullabaloo


Monday, December 26, 2011

 
Elections have consequences. Including this one.

by David Atkins

There's a lot of disappointment out with the Obama Administration, to be sure. I count myself as one of the disenchanted with the Administration's tepid rhetoric and lack of forward progress on the issues that matter most to me: reversing the financialization of the economy, doing something about climate change, forcing the super-rich to pay their fair share again, reducing America's over-expenditure on its war machine, protecting the social safety net, and increasing investment the rest of the federal discretionary budget not dedicated to Social Security, Medicare, and the military. Civil libertarians and education advocates would argue with some cause that the Administration's stances have actually reversed progress on their key issues.

But it's a long way from there to arguing that elections don't matter, that Obama is as bad as Bush, and that therefore one shouldn't vote. Paul Krugman would have a few words to say on that front:

Surprise: I got my wish, in the form of new Environmental Protection Agency standards on mercury and air toxics for power plants. These rules are long overdue: we were supposed to start regulating mercury more than 20 years ago. But the rules are finally here, and will deliver huge benefits at only modest cost.

So, naturally, Republicans are furious. But before I get to the politics, let’s talk about what a good thing the E.P.A. just did...

The E.P.A. explains: “Methylmercury exposure is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies and young children, because studies have linked high levels of methylmercury to damage to the developing nervous system, which can impair children’s ability to think and learn.”

That sort of sounds like something we should regulate, doesn’t it?

The new rules would also have the effect of reducing fine particle pollution, which is a known source of many health problems, from asthma to heart attacks. In fact, the benefits of reduced fine particle pollution account for most of the quantifiable gains from the new rules. The key word here is “quantifiable”: E.P.A.’s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.’s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn’t know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.

Even so, the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

This E.P.A. decision would not have happened under a McCain administration, any more than this kiss would have been possible. And a Romney/Gingrich/Perry administration will likely reverse this E.P.A. ruling if it gets a chance.

Politics is often about taking the best choices one has available. The Obama Administration hasn't been anything close to perfect by a long shot. But as election season nears and the consequences of the choice that lies before the country draw into clearer focus, the voices who argue that voting is irrelevant because there's no difference between the parties are going to become self-marginalized.

But how, one might argue, does one leverage power from the Left if the votes of the Left are guaranteed, regardless? Well, that's what primary season is for, and that's why the Left must concentrate on building a stronger bench of progressive candidates, as well as mobilizing for progressive legislation at a statewide level. And keep in mind that when Democrats lose general elections, they invariably move to the Right, not to the Left. Not voting at all will accomplish precisely nothing in the effort to move the Dems to the Left, nor will a slightly-larger-than-usual group of people refusing to participate in the process somehow cause the two-party system to melt away. All that will happen is that we'll get the same system we had before, completely under the control of Boehner and Cantor's goons, even as a chastened Democratic Party moves even farther to the Right and issues mea culpas for having picked too liberal a President in Barack Obama.

So in a general election when the choice is between the people who want kids to get brain damage from mercury and the people who don't, not voting at all because of drones or Jamie Dimon doesn't make much moral sense--least of all to the kids.


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