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Tom Friedman, Our One-Party Democracy, And The Clean Energy Jobs Message
Joe Romm, 9 Sep 09


Any first-time visitors from Tom Friedman’s column can go here for “An Introduction to Climate Progress.”

“China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want,” said Joe Romm, who writes the blog, climateprogress.org.

The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.

This is from Friedman's column, “Our One-Party Democracy,” which he previewed on Meet the Press Sunday.

The jobs argument is a core message for winning the public debate about the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill.

Friedman is a centrist who advances the argument because he knows it is true, because he understands climate science is real, and because he is a hard-core capitalist who sees the tough dynamic the U.S. is facing in the global economy. If you’re not first, you’re probably last.

The importance of the clean energy jobs message is evidenced by the fact that the corporate polluters and their right-wing allies in the media will do anything to kill it, from publishing phony studies attacking clean energy jobs to pushing their vile assault on Van Jones, who has been a leading articulator of the message (see “Fox News blurts out its agenda: “Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through…. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these groups trillions,” and then put “the whole corrupt ‘green jobs’ concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream”).

How else do we know the clean energy jobs message is crucial? Obama also uses it at every opportunity, including his recent Labor Day speech. In spite of the media’s strong desire to push the message that Obama has lost interest in the climate and clean energy bill, once again he said:

We have to build a new foundation for prosperity in America….An America where energy reform creates green jobs that can never be outsourced and that finally frees America from the grip of foreign oil.

And here’s yet another way to frame the job message — from Obama again (4/22):

The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline… We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects…. The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.

And Obama again (3/19):

We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for our lasting prosperity.

Another way to frame the message that polls well is :

Opponents of bill – oil companies, special interests – fighting against energy reform
• They’ve made America less secure, and more dependent on foreign oil.
• They’ve protected corporations that pollute the air our children breathe and water they drink.
• This bill protects the American people – by creating 1.7 million new jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

The international competitiveness argument works — but as it turns out, it works best if it is linked directly to the loss of American jobs. This paragraph tests very well in polling of swing voters:

China has a million workers in the clean energy economy. India is doubling their clean energy market in 4 years. Germany is creating nearly three hundred thousand clean energy jobs. If we do nothing, America will lose its competitive edge and American jobs will continue to go overseas

Of course, the jobs message isn’t the only one to use to push the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill. I’ll discuss those other core messages in future posts.

Let me end this post by excerpting the Friedman column:

Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

Our one-party democracy is worse. The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing. With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying “no.” Many of them just want President Obama to fail. Such a waste. Mr. Obama is not a socialist; he’s a centrist. But if he’s forced to depend entirely on his own party to pass legislation, he will be whipsawed by its different factions.

Look at the climate/energy bill that came out of the House. Its sponsors had to work twice as hard to produce this breakthrough cap-and-trade legislation. Why? Because with basically no G.O.P. representatives willing to vote for any price on carbon that would stimulate investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, the sponsors had to rely entirely on Democrats…. Thank goodness, it is still a bill worth passing. But it could have been much better. The only way for us to match them [China] is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.

The G.O.P. used to be the party of business. Well, to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business. No one needs immigration reform — so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions — more than American business. No one needs a push for clean-tech — the world’s next great global manufacturing industry — more than American business. Yet the G.O.P. today resists national health care, immigration reform and wants to just drill, baby, drill.

“Globalization has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalized America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears,” said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer. In principle, they have left the party, leaving behind not a pragmatic coalition but a group of ideological naysayers.”

This piece originally appeared in Climate Progress.

Photo credit: Flickr/greenforall.org, Creative Commons License.

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