Friday, May 17, 2013

Is OFA Serious About Climate Change or Not?

Yesterday, Ryan Grim and Lucia Graves of the Huffington Post reported on OFA's refusal to take a stand against Keystone XL despite the organization's recent claim that it would make climate change a priority.  Grim and Graves explain,
Leaders of the group have on multiple occasions told gatherings of activists and donors that OFA will not pressure the White House on Keystone regardless of its members' interest in the project, a 1,700-mile pipeline that would move heavy crude from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf. The administration recently pushed back a decision on approving the pipeline to November, December or even 2014. OFA's refusal to press the administration on the controversial Keystone project is reminiscent of its decision not to pressure Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on gun purchase background checks, despite -- or perhaps because of -- OFA Chairman Jim Messina's close relationship with him. Baucus voted against the president and subsequently announced his retirement.
If OFA is not planning to heed its members' interests, then it is not a particularly democratic organization; however, that should not come as much of a surprise.  One of my main worries about OFA was that it would not challenge the President on anything and accept his policy proposals as good in and of themselves.  During the gun control debate, Obama and the Democratic leadership tabled the assault weapons ban and the magazine restriction early on,telling gun control groups and OFA to make the near-universal background checks provision their big "get"--no matter how watered-down it would become.  I expect this dynamic to exist in the ongoing immigration debate, i.e., that OFA will accept Obama's immigration proposalsand the Gang of 8 plan as the beau ideal of "comprehensive immigration reform" despite the fact that it encourages the continued militarization of the border  and the fact that the so-called "path to citizenship" takes a full 13 years--during which individuals will have questionable legal status and will be denied from access to benefits.  
One of the benefits to organizing is the ability to push the center of debate to the left.  OFA appears to serve only to convince the individuals that spent time and money on the campaign to be content with what they're given and not push any harder.  Because of our two-party system, when Obama claims ownership of a proposal, it becomes the left side of the debate--at least in MSM and conservative representations; OFA seems likely to further that dynamic, offering no push for genuinely progressive reforms.
Do you remember the oft-cited FDR quote "I agree with you.  Now make me do it"?  If Obama wanted to reject Keystone (Well, first of all, he would have already listened to Lisa Jacksonand done so), then he would want OFA to come at him from the left and demand that he reject Keystone XL.  He could thus cite, in addition to the environmental review, the public pressure against the pipeline as the reason for his decision. The failure to do so seems to hint at the fact that he does not, in fact, agree with us.  And as many DKers already know, support for bold climate change action and support for the Keystone XL pipeline are, in fact, mutually exclusive.
A few weeks ago, at the end of April, OFA began its push on climate change.  I was pleasantly surprised to see them decide to get involved; however, I was immediately disappointed with their strategic decisions.  The video OFA created (in the article hyperlinked above) calls out Republicans for climate denialism.  However, in the end, the video is just giving more air time to climate denialism.  It reminded me of Obama's use of the hardly inspiring phrase "not a hoax" during his speech at the DNC last fall.  Psychologists have long noted that the use of such frames can undermine one's messaging goal: the repetition of false claims only strengthens their hold in people's minds and creates an "illusion of truth effect."  The climate denialist position lacks any scientific credibility; it should be treated as an "unserious" view that does not belong in legitimate debate, relegated to the fringe where it deserves to be.  In my opinion, the emphasis should be not to call out legislators on their denial but on their  inaction, especially because such inaction is unfortunately bipartisan.
As the Huffington Post passage earlier in this diary hinted, OFA is not interested in pressuring Democrats on tough issues, and meaningful action on climate change will require Democrats to take a bolder stance than they have so far.  Consider the American Climate and Energy Security Act (ACES, or Waxman-Markey), the admittedly watered-down but still valuable climate bill that passed the House in 2009 only to sputter and fail in the Senate because of the intransigence of coal state Democrats, oil-loving Democrats, Republican obstructionism, and a President with no actual strategy.  ACES passed by the narrowest of margins: 219-212, and it only passed because of the support of 8 Republicans. ACES only had 211 Democratic votes.  1 Democrat (Hastings) wasn't there, and 44 voted against it.  Pete Stark (CA), Pete DeFazio (OR), and Dennis Kucinich (OH) all opposed ACES from the left, believing (like Greenpeace and some other more left-leaning environmental groups) that the design of ACES could threaten the power of the EPA.  However, the remaining 41 all opposed it from the right.  
Most of the 41 got wiped out in the great Blue Dog massacre of 2010, some retired or lost last year, and only 8 are still in either house of Congress:
John Barrow (D-GA)
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)--now in the Senate
Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
Jim Matheson (D-UT)
Mike McIntyre (D-NC)
Nick Rahall (D-WV)
Mike Ross (D-AR)
Pete Visclosky (D-IN)
Do these 8 acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change?  According to my quick search of their past statements, these legislators don't deny the fact that climate change is a human-influenced problem that we need to address; they are just bought by the fossil fuel companies (especially coal) and have no intention of voting for any legislation that would challenge the economic self-interest of their backers. We have known the scientific consensus behind climate change for a long time.  Convincing people of that should not be the priority right now; what we need is to convince people of the urgency of action.
Returning to Keystone XL, we already know that the pipeline has plenty of friends in the White House because of the former Obama staffers who have no qualms about peddling access.  Former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn is one of the most prominent examples of such influence peddlers who sell access for cash, and---surprise, surprise---her firm, SKDKnickerbocker, does PR for TransCanda, the corporation currently building the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline.  It's great that Obama acknowledges the scientific consensus on climate change, but what matters more is whether he listens to someone like James Hansen or someone like Anita Dunn.
The OFA website also offers little hope for environmentalists seeking meaningful action.  From what I can tell, the OFA website has not changed at all since the election.  It continues to tout Obama's first-term accomplishments rather than present policy prescriptions around which to mobilize in the second term.  Although the Organizing for Action website has language aboutclimate change, the website's energy section is not heartening, to say the least.   OFA does not encourage Obama to take any action on climate on its website; rather, it just praises his efforts thus far:
The President has taken historic steps to reduce carbon pollution in the United States, including establishing fuel economy standards that will cut the amount of carbon pollution from cars by a half, proposing standards to decrease carbon pollution from new power plants, and helping us transition to cleaner and more efficient energy sources.
The Energy section merely parrots the all-of-the-above talking point that Obama loves, which I have criticized in the past:
President Obama has a real strategy to take control of our energy future and finally reduce our dependence on foreign oil—an all-of-the-above approach to developing all our energy resources.
Most politicians prefer to speak about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, rather than the real necessity of reducing dependence on oil and other fossil fuels overall.  
We then get to see OFA tout the increased natural gas production and increased oil production that Obama touted during his campaign:
Under President Obama, the United States has become a world leader in natural gas, and production is at an all-time high. He is promoting the safe, responsible development of our near 100-year supply of natural gas, which could support more than 600,000 new jobs by the end of the decade.
Under President Obama, we are producing more oil than we have in 14 years. He is helping expand domestic oil production by offering millions of acres of land for development—including opening up 75% of our oil and gas resources in the Gulf and Arctic—and is improving safety measures to prevent future spills.
OFA and Obama also haven't given up on the chimera of clean coal:
President Obama has made one of the most significant federal investments in clean coal technology in history. The Obama administration has attracted more than $10 billion in private investments, and in 2011, employment in the coal sector hit its highest level since 1996.
With such an open-armed embrace of a fossil fuels, it's hard to see OFA as committed to serious, bold climate change action.

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