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Liz Warren's Litmus Test: Support the Climate Protection Act

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In my recent OpEdNews article calling for a climate-action Tea Party (click here), I called out popular OEN writer Eric Zuesse for what I regard, frankly, as dangerous, dishonest spin-doctoring about Liz Warren.

Senator Warren--Here's your .climate hero. litmus test.
Senator Warren--Here's your .climate hero. litmus test.
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Not that I have anything against Warren; I decidedly don't. Rather, like the many progressives who eagerly read Zuesse's article (click here), I'm deeply grateful for her virtual "one-woman war" against Wall Street, and was eager to learn of her first public pro-climate stance. After all, many of us regard her (as a woman--and clearly, an eloquent, capable one) as perhaps progressives' best potential antidote to the deadly cancer named Hillary Clinton. But since economics and finance has been almost her exclusive focus, we needed to know whether she was suitably progressive on other issues. And for those of us who take climatologists' urgent warnings literally (but who, unlike Zuesse, haven't simply given up), climate must be the deal-breaker issue. As top climatologist James Hansen says about the Keystone XL pipeline, electing another Obama-style Democrat president in 2016--and Hillary's almost certainly worse--will be "game over" for the climate.

The urgency of progressives knowing just how to evaluate Warren on climate is precisely what makes Zuesse's pro-Democratic spin-doctoring so dangerous. Yes, we know Republicans are hopeless, but that does not in any way imply Democrats are satisfactory. Zuesse seems to breezily--or arrogantly--ignore the vast body of progressive thought (some of it quite scholarly) arguing that the problem of Big Money corruption in Washington is bipartisan. Given his considerable knowledge, I suspect he's digested the disillusioning personal experience of lifelong prosecutor and TARP special investigator Neil Barofsky in Bailout, or the carefully documented scholarly work of Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig in Republic, Lost. A bipartisan problem implies Democrats are not hunky-dory; I wonder if Zuesse would take the same overbearing schoolmaster's tone with Barofsky and Lessig in asserting that they are.

No, everyday Democrats are not to be trusted; even Zuesse implies this when he urges a progressive takeover of the Democratic Party (though he offers no discernible weapon of political pressure for making this happen). And nowhere should this distrust be deeper than on climate action--the "orphaned" issue (almost, as homosexuality once was, "the love that dare not be named"; just consider the Obama-Romney debates) of both major parties. So making out Warren to be a storm-the-barricades climate firebrand, on the basis of a single off-the-radar pro-climate letter signing (albeit one of some importance), seems a dishonest move calculated to herd climate activists into supporting "progressive" Democrats--when we have minimal evidence their "progressiveness" includes sufficient solicitude about climate, humanity's most important issue.

If I harp on Zuesse, it's precisely because he's a capable, intelligent writer, very popular (at least at OEN), and therefore all the more dangerous in his dishonesty. Granted, he personally offended me in article comments by unprovoked resorts to his haughty school principal's tone, but feeling personally peeved by no means precludes rationally warning against a person on other grounds. To pick a worst-case scenario, Hitler's routinely abusive language no doubt personally offended many early German warners against the menace he posed to their nation--and generally a need to verbally bully (especially potential allies) is a telltale sign one's stance is little supported by pure reason. Don't get me wrong; I hardly mean to imply Eric Zuesse is like Hitler. On the contrary, the more relevant parallel is to Neville Chamberlain--a Chamberlain (with a bullying tone) who'd appease, rather than combat, Democrats over their climate failings.

I'll soon introduce my main topic--the Sanders-Boxer climate bill as a climate litmus test for Liz Warren (and Democrats generally)--but I feel it's best introduced against the background of another typical, insidiously sneaky instance of Zuesse dishonesty. To illustrate that sneaky dishonesty, I can do no better than to quote a (typically overbearing) Zuesse response to my (polite) comments under his article breaking news of Warren's maiden act of climate rectitude. Thus spake Zarathustra: "Elizabeth Warren signed that letter, and Bernie Sanders did not; so, your entire argument here is nonsensical, even on your own ridiculously perfectionistic terms." For context, "that letter" is the letter Warren cosigned that's the subject of Zuesse's article; my "entire argument" is the argument that climate activists must threaten Dems with losing the 2016 presidential election if Hillary is their candidate; and my "ridiculously perfectionistic terms" are my insistence that no Democratic presidential candidate is sufficiently progressive if not a climate champion.

Now, Zuesse likes to make out that I'm some political rube ignorant of strategy, and his use of "ridiculously perfectionistic terms"--the same language used ad nauseam by Democrat flacks defending Obama--made me suspect he's a more highly evolved version of such a flack. When I say "more highly evolved," I mean he does not in any way defend Obama, for if he had, merely exchanging words with him would have provoked some real "nauseam" in me. But no, Zuesse is too smart to palm off mere Democrat "flakspeak" on highly progressive OEN readers; moreover, I have no reason to doubt his sincerity in eloquently castigating both Obama and Hillary. But he has retained some of the lumpen Democrat talking points, such as the talk of "ridiculously perfectionistic terms" and the knee-jerk readiness to stigmatize me as a Naderite type who'd throw the election to those evil Repugs. But is it strategic ignorance to be adamantly unwilling to compromise away the one issue you care about most deeply? Or to play political hardball over that issue--climate change--when humanity's survival beyond this century could depend on inflexible activism? Zuesse is too smart not to see this, which makes me conclude he's renounced all hope of climate action and exploits climate, where possible, to promote the fortunes of vaguely "progressive" Democrats.

But Zuesse's dishonesty goes well beyond sneakily adopting lumpen-Dem talking points and unjustly treating me as a know-nothing strategic rube. The important piece of Zuesse "dirty dealing" I mean to draw attention to is in his comparative treatment of the climate records of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The Zuesse comment I cited merely suggests it tersely, but the overall tenor of Zuesse's responses to me is that Warren's first, off-the-radar act of climate rectitude outweighs Bernie Sanders' long public record of climate advocacy. As I've noted in prior articles, in a world where most politicians maintain a cowardly, obscene silence over global warming, merely being willing to speak out about the issue insistently and repeatedly, is itself a courageous act of climate heroism. And Zuesse is deeply disingenuous to hint, as he strongly does, that Sanders, unlike Warren, is all talk and no action. In February 2013, Sanders, along with California Democrat Barbara Boxer, introduced a climate action bill, strongly supported by climatologists and leading environmental groups, that's been described as the "gold standard" of climate action. So how could Warren's first tentative pro-climate step possibly outweigh as "action" co-sponsorship of a bill that has been said, by experts, to comprehensively address the climate problem? Inquiring minds want to know.

Needless to say, the Sanders-Boxer climate bill--officially called "The Climate Protection Act of 2013"--languishes in committee and has received extremely scanty mention by mainstream media. Now, I genuinely like Warren, and if I compare her invidiously to Sanders, it's only on comparative histories of climate advocacy; Sanders, far longer on the ground and less laser-focused on economic issues, naturally has an advantage. But our next U.S. president must be a genuine (unlike Obama) climate champion, and it's fair to apply litmus tests to someone with as scanty a history as Warren's. So here's one for her: let her use the populist bully pulpit she's established to become an outspoken champion of the Sanders-Boxer climate bill. Urging her to do so is an excellent first initiative for a climate-action Tea Party. And also for Zuesse, who loves Warren so much, if he wishes to prove he cares about climate, and not merely the electoral fortunes of Democrats.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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