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What Theda Skocpol Gets Wrong About The Climate Bill Fight

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"What Theda Skocpol Gets Wrong About The Climate Bill Fight"

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Who Is To Blame For Failure Of Climate Bill in 2009, 2010? Hint: The People Who Opposed It, Ignored It Or Undersold It!

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A lengthy new study opinion piece aims to pin the blame for the failure of the climate bill on the environmental community. It has already resulted in head-exploding headlines like this one in the Guardian:
First, if we’re going to truly learn from this epic failure, let’s frame the issue fully, something Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol fails to do in her incredibly long, but oddly incomplete essay, “NAMING THE PROBLEM: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming.”

As readers know, I think the opponents of action — the fossil fuel companies, the disinformers, the right wing media, and the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues in the Senate – deserve 60% of the blame.  The lame-stream media gets 30% for its generally enabling coverage — see “How the status quo media failed on climate change” and The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.” Then the “Think Small” centrists and lukewarmers get 5% for helping to shrink the political space in the debate (see here and here).

So we are divvying up the remaining 5% of blame between team Obama and environmental groups (along with Senate Democrats, scientists, progressives, and everyone else, including me, and the American public). I’m not sure how much can be learned from the climate bill failure if your main focus is the elite environmental community. Skocpol does spend a lot of time discussing the Tea Party driven extremism of the GOP, but, I think, drawing the wrong lessons.

Second, for that last 5% blame, the lion’s share has to go to Obama (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2“). He is the agenda shaper. He has the biggest megaphone by far. He made most of the decisive blunders (see below). But not according to Skocpol. She asserts:

To hold a “failure of leadership” by Obama responsible for the ultimate shortfall for cap and trade, we would have to imagine that, in the spring of 2010, the President could have done something better or different than the USCAP leaders or Senate bargainers to satisfy Rahm Emmanuel’s realistic demand to “get me some Republicans.” We have to picture Barack Obama being more persuasive with leading Republicans than, say, Environmental Defense Fund honcho Fred Krupp, who had successfully cajoled votes out of GOP Senators in the past. I do not find that plausible. Presidential arm-twisting and sweet-talking were not the issue. Developments in the two parties, especially among Republicans, were pivotal.

Now, if that rings true to you, you don’t have to keep reading this blog post. You can dive into Skocpol’s 142-page PDF.

But skip the PDF and keep reading if — like one senior Congressional staffer involved with the bill who I ran that quote by — you think it is absurd to claim that the head of a medium-sized environmental group is more persuasive, indeed a more important leader, than the most powerful person in the free world.

Note that such questionable assertions/opinions are not rare in Skocpol’s paper, but very common. It isn’t peer-reviewed nor do I think could pass peer review, for reasons that will become clear. It is kind of a mini-book — an oral history overlaid with a bunch of opinions. But the opinions are just that and not inherently more valid than yours or mine merely because they come from a well-regarded scholar.

Obama’s failure of leadership extends far beyond “arm-twisting” and “sweet-talking.” Here are the key failures, as I see them (feel free to add your own):

  • Pushing health care reform first when the climate bill was already moving and far more important for the future of the nation and the world.
  • Pushing health care reform in such an incompetent fashion it took a full year, lost public support for that reform and sweeping pieces of legislation in general, energized the opposition, and generally further poisoned a poisonous political atmosphere.
  • Failing to insist that the climate bill be able to be passed through the reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes and prevents a filibuster — in retrospect, this was almost certainly the single biggest strategic mistake (though not Obama’s alone).
  • Never keeping Democratic Senators in line, and, for instance, never making clear that there was definitely going to be a vote on the climate bill, as they knew there would be for health care. This allowed moderate Democrats to publicly bad-mouth the bill and say that there was no path to 60 votes, which essentially sent the message to moderate Republicans crucial to the bill’s passage that they would be taking a massive political risk supporting any bill.
  • Never giving one single major national speech on the most important issue of our time, and even muzzling his Cabinet and Administration from talking about climate. Obama demonstrated with, for instance, the fiscal cliff, that the bully pulpit can move public opinion or at least solidify opinion that is broad but perhaps not deep.
  • Insisting on a communications strategy for everyone involved in pushing the climate bill that rejected any talk about the problem the climate bill was designed to address — see “The Sounds Of Silence: Team Obama Launched The Inane Strategy Of Downplaying Climate Change Back In March 2009.”

Skocpol misses the importance of most if not all of those. If you fail to recognize these blunders, it is implausible that you’ll figure out what to do right next time, which is one of the main purposes of Skocpol’s paper. To be clear, though, I think the environmental community made some very serious mistakes, but mostly different ones than Skocpol identifies.

Because the paper is not peer-reviewed, Skocpol can use anonymous quotes whose interpretation cannot be verified, and she can cite sources who don’t actually agree with her conclusions. For instance, she writes:

I have also relied heavily on The Climate War, an interview-based account of the cap and trade effort that was published in mid-2010 by Eric Pooley, who was at that time a journalist and has since become a Senior Vice President at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Strange then that this is what Pooley believes based on his interviews:

We need to get to 60 [Senators] to get it done. And so far we have not been able to do that. Now why haven’t we been able to? I believe the most important reason is that the President of the United States has not gotten in there and fought for a bill….

He has not led on three levels: the level of a sustained deep communication to the American people explaining why we need to do this; why we need to transition to clean energy and how we’re going to get it done; why a carbon cap is so important — he hasn’t really made that case….

Pooley has a lot more disagreements with Skocpol, which he lays out here.

She cites Robert Brulle’s work extensively, but doesn’t appear to see how that work undercuts her main thesis. She writes:

Throughout the 2000s decade, Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins show, GOP Congressional votes and arguments against environmental bills were associated with declining public concern, while statements from Democratic politicians about the rising threat of global warming and the need to deal with it raised the level of public concern. Remember, these findings come from quarterly measurements of both dependent and independent variables, so the findings are unusually powerful.

Well, yes, but that’s why Brulle wrote two years ago, “By failing to even rhetorically address climate change, Obama is mortgaging our future and further delaying the necessary work to build a political consensus for real action.”

It is kind of baffling Skocpol repeatedly cites Brulle’s work but then hand-waves away elsewhere the importance of Democratic politicians talking about the rising threat of global warming. Remember, Obama himself wasn’t just mostly silent on the climate threat —  he muzzled his administration and other Congressional leaders (and much of the environmental community), too!

Coincidentally, Yale University’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies just came out with a study “Stasis and Movements: Climate Legislation in the 111th Congress,” which found, unsurprisingly:

Through comparison with the Affordable Care Act and the history of U.S. environmental policymaking, the second section suggests three political forces that might have helped strength the climate campaign: public opinion, grassroots mobilization and presidential leadership.

I hesitate to say, “Duh.” But, seriously.

This is an unavoidably long post given the length and, I think, importance of not learning the wrong lessons of the past. But hey, Grist’s Dave Roberts already has onetwothree posts on the subject! And I’ve been on travel else I’d have written something sooner.

UPDATE: Skocpol responds in the comments, and I reply to her.

Let’s explore the reconciliation issue a bit more, because Skocpol mostly ignores it even though it was, in retrospect, probably the single biggest blunder. Certainly if you could ask most participants in the process what is the one thing they would change — if they could — it would be the reconciliation decision. Yes, I am aware that this is a counterfactual, but Skocpol’s entire essay is built around multiple counterfactuals — what the environmental community could have done differently to achieve success. As an aside, her answer — rally around the (too weak, business unfriendly) cap-and-dividend bill — was neither politically nor environmentally viable and Dave Roberts expresses his doubt here.

But reconciliation was at least theoretically possible since Senate majority leader Reid apparently supported it and team Obama had gotten it for health care.

Skocpol’s essay was released with a companion piece by Petra Bartosiewicz and Marissa Miley, “The Too Polite Revolution: Why the Recent Campaign to Pass Comprehensive Climate Legislation in the United States Failed.” While Skocpol says “I have been fortunate to consult with journalists Petra Bartosiewicz and Marissa Miley, who have done a superb job of interviewing most participants in the immediate battles and describing and assessing what happened in 2009 and 2010,” she ignores one of their key points:

Many Senate staffers we spoke with said the climate bill was doomed from the start because it was not slated for reconciliation, which would have provided immunity to filibustering and enabled the bill to pass with a simple majority of fifty-one votes rather than the standard sixty votes needed to bring it to a vote. Gaining those sixty votes became even more difficult in January 2010 when Republican upstart Scott Brown won a special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat. After that, any Senate cap-and-trade bill would have to have at least one Republican backer to pass the Senate.

As Eric Pooley recounts in The Climate War, Reid indicated in a March 2009 meeting with Duke CEO Jim Rogers and EDF’s Fred Krupp that he might try to pass the climate bill through reconciliation but that Rogers and Krupp managed to persuade him not to take the that route. (By contrast, reconciliation was used to bring amendments to the health care and education reform bills to a vote in 2010, since elements of each act had been put into the annual federal budget.) Kent Conrad (D-ND), who, as chairman of the Senate Budget committee, oversaw whether to include reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution, opposed putting climate through reconciliation. “It doesn’t work well for writing major substantive legislation,” he said at the time.

Talk about blunders (by those pushing a climate bill).

As the Yale study “Stasis and Movements” points out:

Polarization and political geography have such a large impact only because of the 60-vote, filibuster-imposed threshold on passing nearly all legislation; dropping that threshold to 51 would have completely changed the political dynamics and greatly enhanced the probability of victory. That is, the filibuster can either be understood as simply part of the basic political conditions under which the climate movement operated or as the single most important cause of the climate bill’s defeat.

In fact, or, rather, in a counterfactual, the filibuster is not a given. Far from it.

Indeed, as Pooley explains in his book:

With the backing of the White House, the Senate decided to reserve the right to use a parliamentary shortcut called budget “reconciliation” to pass a health-care bill, but ruled out the maneuver for the climate bill. Using this fast-track process for the cap, Emanuel said, would be “a bridge too far”– another reminder that Obama wanted healthcare reform more than climate action.

Even so, Pooley describes the meeting between Reid and Rogers and Krupp this way.

Looking directly at Rogers, he said “I don’t think we’re going to get a strong bill unless we do this through budget reconciliation”– a maneuver that would allow Reid to pass a bill with fifty-one votes instead of the sixty needed to override a filibuster. “I may try to get it done that way.”

Rogers blanched– the sixty vote threshold was his insurance that the bill would meet his specifications….

I apologize for failing to warn you to put on your head vise (about Rogers).

If it is true that reconciliation was a legitimate possibility because Reid wanted it — and that team Obama chose to push reconciliation for health care reform rather than climate — and that key members of the business-environmental coalition backing the bill didn’t push for it (and actually argued against it), then it is very straightforward to say that this was the single most important (plausibly changeable) cause of the climate bill’s defeat.

Skocpol has a long discussion of the rise of the Tea Party, the polarization of the GOP, but she somehow blames environmentalists for not figuring out how to respond to that as wisely as the people pushing healthcare reform. Skocpol writes (incorrectly):

As both health reformers and global warming warriors geared up, there was a key difference. One set of reformers looked to learn from past failure, while the other wanted to extend partial successes. Looking back at the “Health Security” debacle of 1993-94, would-be health reformers concentrated on learning from mistakes made when Democrats last controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress. They set out to do better at policy specification, expert preparations, and political coalition-building. Meanwhile, climate change reformers prepared to extend and recapitulate what they saw as earlier accomplishments….

That is just not true. The health reformers only needed Democratic votes and in fact they ultimately required reconciliation to get the bill they wanted (and the Administration spent a lot of time persuading liberals that this was the best bill they could get rather than a sellout to the insurance companies). Also, by making clear that all the Dems knew a vote was going to happen — and having  reconciliation in their back pocket — the White House was making clear to Senators that opposing the bill would not accomplish anything (except get the Democratic base and Democratic donors pissed with them) and hence that their best strategy was to negotiate the best deal for their constituents.

The fact is that climate change reformers — who, again, I have many issues with — learned two key lessons from the failure of the BTU tax during 1993-1994. The first was not to push a tax (how times change!). The second was not to try to pass something without business support. But Skocpol says that second strategy was a mistake. Her opinion may be valid, but my opinion is that getting the support of the electric utility industry was not a mistake and that her preferred approach, the cap-and-dividend, wouldn’t even have gotten close to a majority of Democrats in either the House or Senate because the business community would have been against it.

Again, if we are going to do a counterfactual, then it is pretty obvious that the single change that should have been made in the overall strategy was to get the right to use  reconciliation for the climate bill. And if that meant not getting it for the health care bill, so be it. Frankly, if the White House had not managed to healthcare bill so incompetently they wouldn’t have even needed reconciliation!

Removing the filibuster option and requiring only 51 votes would’ve changed the entire political dynamics of the climate bill, as the Yale analysis noted. It was, in retrospect, the optimal response to the rise of the Tea Party that Skocpol spends so much time discussing. I and many others I have spoken to think we would’ve gotten a serious bill if we’d only needed 51 votes.

Now you may hold the opinion reconciliation was not possible for the climate bill, but it was certainly more possible than cap-and-dividend — or more possible than rapidly setting up a grassroots movement, another key omission by the environmental community according to Skocpol and the Yale analysis. Again, I think that a real grassroots movement would have been valuable — as Bill McKibben has shown. But if the goal was passing a climate bill during the brief, shining moment that was possible in 2009 (and 2010), I’d rather have had reconciliation than the grassroots mobilization (or, I should say, rather than the modest grassroots mobilization the environmental community had been able to achieve in 2009). Of course, both would be ideal.

I think, in retrospect, failure of White House leadership was a major reason reconciliation was not an option. It also appears the business-environmental community also played a counterproductive role. But again if the choice was aggressive White House leadership (i.e. not making the mistakes listed at the top) and no change in the business-environmental strategy for the bill, or the same non-leadership from team Obama and a better business-environmental strategy, I’d take the former in a heart beat.

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101 Responses to What Theda Skocpol Gets Wrong About The Climate Bill Fight

  1. A Siegel says:

    Joe,

    Thank you for this important discussion since, as you are well aware, so many are embracing Skocpol’s piece as ‘gospel’.

    I much appreciate you % breakdown — don’t know if I’ve seen the #s from you even as having seen the tone/general conversation often. We should recognize who deserves “fault” and “blame” for driving disaster as opposed who tried to find/create solutions and weren’t necessarily pursuing the best strategy/tactics/approaches.

    Strongly agree that ‘reconciliation’ being taken off the table essentially doomed the potential for passing something.

    Note that you have a sentence fragment: “But reconciliation was at least theoretically possible since Senate majority leader Reid and team Obama” Asume that you meant to have something like “took this off the table” to finish the sentence.

    • Superman1 says:

      The main error is how the problem is framed: “Fight against Global Warming”. The so-called ‘fight’ is really fighting our addiction to high intensity use of fossil fuel. No fundamental difference from these ‘fights’ against cancer that are in the headlines. While there are some genetic drivers of cancer beyond our control, for the most part, according to the latest medical literature, it is due to lifestyle and exposure behaviors mainly under our control. Too much food, the wrong kind of food, too much smoking, too much alcohol, too much cell phone use, etc. In both cases, we the addicts to a distorted lifestyle are the cause, and if there is any ‘fight’, it should be against our motivations.

  2. max says:

    Your analysis raises the question why the Administration and proponents of climate change legislation aren’t trying again to pass a bill in Obama’s second term using the reconciliation option you describe. Maybe after another Sandy or crop failures due to heat and drought?

    • Max, who says they aren’t? Too soon to tell. Not too soon to ask, though! :-)

      • DCIvan says:

        Take a look at the House and how it has changed since the House voted on ACES. Reconciliation is not really going to help bridge the gap there.

        • Joe Romm says:

          Indeed. Obama had his best shot and he let it die. That said, if you see what he’s doing on gun control and what he did on the fiscal cliff, then it’s clear he could still fight for a carbon tax in a debt deal.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Mmmm, because the administration had decided to throw climate change action under the bus shortly after taking office? The Democratic House leadership was stunned that they had to push the Administration, hard, to get it to lobby House members to pass the cap and trade bill back in 2009. Axelrod is definately a part of that decision (to ignore climate change), an intricate part of Obama’s politic operation and I doubt things have changed much since then.

      The problem now is that the House is in the GOP’s hands and we won’t be getting them to allow a climate change bill to be voted upon (except maybe one that outlaws the existance of climate change and all green energy tech etc.) – so it doesn’t matter if we could pass one in the Senate…the opportunity was back in 2009 and was totally blown off.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Axelrod, and Emanuel, and others in the Administration are clearly the puppet-masters pulling the strings of the Obama charade. So address your pleas to him, not to the mannequin.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The healthcare legislation was a cop-out, not the universal health insurance system that the USA and every decent society needs, but a sop to ‘the market’ and the health insurance industry. Passing it was a sop to Big Business, and was only opposed by the deranged Mad Hatters. Climate legislation threatens the very core of the capitalist system, the fossil fuel industry, so Obama was, and is, never going to, nor be allowed to, address the absolute priority for total decarbonisation. Not then, not now, not ever. Blame shifting is a ‘divide and rule’ tactic. Everybody has their share, but, overall, it is the market capitalist system that prevents action, on this or any other ecological disaster or the steadily unfolding economic catastrophe.

      • Lisa Boucher says:

        The Waxman-Markey bill was a cop-out.  The bizarre thing about this blog post and the entire conversation is that everyone seems to be assuming that (1) the proposed legislation was good and that (2) there was no opposition worth mentioning from climate hawks.

        Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two experienced attorneys with the EPA strongly condemned cap-and-trade as a step BACKWARD, not forward:

        “The bill features anemic goals, un-provable offsets, and new coal-fired power plants without carbon sequestration.  If enacted, these provisions would disable our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for at least a decade — after which the risk of irreversible climate calamity would be hugely increased.”

        The idea of carbon emissions trading was also exquisitely lampooned by the boys at Cheat Neutral.  The Waxman-Markey bill was a way to make liberals feel good about themselves without actually inflicting any diminishment of the bloated affluence of U.S. society.

        We need a system of carbon fees.  I was pleased that the deck-chair-rearranging subservience to the capitalist system went down in flames.  Wall Street couldn’t care less about future generations; this crisis demands direct action by the state.

        • Joe Romm says:

          As you know, I don’t agree. We missed our best chance to put a rising price on carbon and invest heavily in alternatives.

          • Lisa Boucher says:

            Joe — Perhaps you would agree that the key moment occurred in the summer of 2009 when the Koch-funded Tea Party frenzy stalled the momentum for the bill’s passage in the Senate.

            At that moment, there was insufficient grassroots support to overcome the browbeating that senators received at “town hall” meetings in their districts.

            I think the reason cap-and-trade lost that summer is that the idea of solving climate change with “emissions trading” was quite uninspiring.  Carbon fees are easier to understand and much more likely to deliver substantial emissions reductions.

            You continue to make great points about the fossil-fuel funding juggernaut and the captured mass media.  But the typical Democratic Party strategy of starting from a compromised position was another abject failure — because it did not inspire the grassroots rebellion that is necessary to overcome the Koch brothers’ millions.

            While the far-right builds astroturf movements with money, we need to build a legitimate grassroots movement with INSPIRATION.  Note that 350.org is doing exactly that, and they have long called for carbon fees with dividends:

            “A rising carbon fee is the most effective way to phase out fossil fuel use and will allow for a fair competition with energy efficiency and renewable energy like solar and wind power.”

          • Joe Romm says:

            The key moment was the reconciliation decision. Yours was the second key moment. But you forget that no one felt a tax was possible given the BTU tax debacle and trading was a Republican business-friendly idea. Now one can argue that people should have realized in spring 2009 that the GOP was rejecting their own ideas (health care mandate), but that just makes the importance of being able to do this with 51 votes greater.

            I am all for a rising carbon price. I’m not opposed to a dividend approach, just skeptical that could win the necessary broad-based support once the business community realizes what it means for them.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Lisa, I agree with you. Emissions trading is a sop to the neo-liberal ‘Market God’, and will not work. All these trading regimes are designed, not to achieve the putative goal, in this case emissions reduction, but to provide new venues for the financial grifters to speculate and turn a profit. If the absolute priority of profit (and bonus) maximisation can only be met by increasing emissions, or their reducing at a too slow rate for ecological safety, the ecology goes down the pan. The rorts in the European scheme, the over-allocation of emissions permits, the corrupt emissions ‘carbon off-sets’ in poor countries (a modern form of ‘indulgences’)and outright corruption and fraud (what a surprise!)have made it a preposterous failure so far. The Chinese might handle it better, but all in all in my opinion a carbon emissions tax rising at a set rate, the proceeds hypothecated to renewable roll-out, ecological repair and compensation for the poor and middle, is plainly superior. Unfortunately Western elites are so intellectually insufficient that they buy the whole rotting edifice of neo-liberal mystification even though it lies in smoking ruins all about us.

          • Joe Romm says:

            Trading isn’t my favorite approach, but it has worked here in the U.S.

          • Lisa Boucher says:

            Joe — Thank you for your replies; I always learn something from you.

            My understanding is that budget reconciliation is only important in the U.S. Senate — where legislation would otherwise be vulnerable to filibuster.  If Democrats manage to recapture a majority in the U.S. House, would it be possible to enact a carbon tax through the reconciliation process?

      • RS22 says:

        This kind of critique of the health care bill is so ignorant and absurd that it makes my blood boil. Many nations have a “universal” system that incorporates private insurance elements. It is not a “sop” to businesses any more than Section 8 is a “sop” to landlords, food stamps are a “sop” to grocery stores, and Medicare (or, gasp, single payer) is a sop to hospitals, nursing homes, drug companies, and doctors. I’d venture to say you have no earthly idea what the parameters of the legislation are, how it compares to health insurance systems in other nations, or what the humanitarian consequences are. This is the worst kind of lazy rubbish that one is periodically forced to read from so-called “progressives” or “leftists” who have no idea what they’re talking about.

        Climate activists don’t do themselves any favors by making idiotic arguments against the health care bill.

  3. Great piece, Joe, so timely, so important, and so right on!

    60 – 30 – 5- 5 is a great apportionment, and generous-spirited where it should be – unlike the piece you’re critiquing.

    Feels a touch harsh on the health care strategy fine point – since it did work, ultimately, arguably an unprecedented success in a long-important area.

    I have to agree strongly that climate change is a much greater threat. Apt cartoon to underline that point, still so rarely embraced by crucial US policy elites.

    I had a big personal takeaway from Pooley’s The Climate War in addition to what appears here.

    The whole big, hard fought backstage strategy by EDF et al. seemed to hinge crucially on carbon capture and storage (CSS) as a costly-but-surivial strategy for the coal industry, allowing the more dynamic in the industry to imagine a compromise on a market mechanism.

    But ultimately, CSS is really quite a preposterous pipe dream based on any available strategy.

    I think this was a crucial, deadly, underlying flaw in the EDF approach. Whether industry realization played a role in their defection from the negotiations, I couldn’t say.

    But even if a grand compromise had been reached, counting on CSS to be bought into existence by the carbon market, allowing fossil fuel use to continue and be infinitely offset – over the objections of basic physics -how would that have worked in the longer run?

    It’s a whole different strategy when we realize that as much as 80% of known fossil fuel reserves just have to stay in the ground.

    And exploration for more continues to accelerate.

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    Political science isn’t. Skocpol can be added to Pielke Jr. as proof. None of what she says is verifiable or even convergent with what actually happened. Note that the fossil fuel companies and bankers escape blame.

    It’s the same old careerist, “serious” path, getting us back to the middle ground, or the choice that has gotten us into so much trouble in the first place. That suits the oil companies just fine.

  5. M Tucker says:

    Joe Manchin, Senate Democrat from WV, ran for office AGAINT a cap’n trade bill. I wonder how many other Senate Democrats feared a primary challenge if they were to support the bill. How do you keep those guys in line?

    Would the climate bill have included something that could have been construed as a budget resolution? A necessary requirement to go the reconciliation route.

    To me Obama’s biggest failure is to have never learned to use the bully pulpit. TR did not start out with Congressional support or even a great deal of public support for establishing National Parks and Monuments but he was a forceful talker and champion of these causes. The same could be said for going up against JP Morgan and his massive trust. Obama is not a man of vision when it comes to the climate issue. He does not see it as something that must be done now. He has always seen it as a can that could be kicked down the road ‘till later. He has never really seen the climate problem as being of vital national importance as TR did with preserving the wilderness or breaking anti-competition trusts.

    For me the failure is with Obama even if it would have been a challenge to get 60 votes. I would love to have an expert on the subject address the possibility of using reconciliation even if it is a moot point now. No way that any kind of climate bill will get through the House now. Ol’ Boner will not even allow a biil like that to come up.

    • I think your take on Obama is on target. Neither he nor his political staff see climate change as the urgent issue it is. They can “get away” with postponing action, or even failing to bring attention to the problem, while pursuing agendas they find more pressing or doable.

      It’s hard to tell if these errors stem from genuine misjudgment of the seriousness of the climate situation or from ties to the powers that be — after all, it is Obama who is pursuing the “all of the above” energy policy, even though some of the above — fossil fuels — are destroying the planet. Viz. it was his, or his administration’s bright idea to let Shell drill in Arctic waters.

      To me the real test is coming — soon — with the keystone pipeline decision. If the Obamites greenlight the pipeline, with the obvious knowledge that the oil will be marketed internationally and it is a huge pool of some of the dirtiest carbon — it will be clear that the administration’s ties to fossil fuels trumps any concerns it has about climate change, no matter what half-assed pronouncements or watered-down legislative proposals follow.

      The signs don’t look good, since construction on the southern part of the pipeline is continuing and the Canadians have been bullying American land owners with threats of eminent domain lawsuits — not reported in lamestream media, of course. If Obama wanted to stop the pipeline, I should think he would have told the Canadians to back off by now.

      We’ll know in a month or so what we can expect from this administration, and for the fate of the planet.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Roosevelt was his own man, and Obama is a puppet, recruited, employed and financed in politics in order to serve his Masters, and they are not the voters who were sucked in by his rhetoric, or future generations.

    • M Tucker says:

      TR was a man of big ideas and deep thinking. He was a tireless advocate for what he thought was right even if others didn’t. Obama ain’t that guy.

      FDR was a man who took on deep challenges and took to task those in power. He fought with Congress to pass legislation and even though some of his effort was shot down by the S Court he did not quit. Obama ain’t that guy.

      Obama is an opportunist. We would not be having this move for common sense gun control if it was not for the high body count of some very young children. Obama saw an opportunity. He had said nothing about it before. A very obvious opportunist trying to make a little history. Not a man with vision who will work tirelessly to achieve his goals.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent article Joe – great points from back in the day…considering reconciliation, its very sad how close would were there….51 votes we could have done at the time.

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    While Skocpol acknowledges the quick rise of the tea party, she does not give nearly enough credit to the fossil fuel industry.

    Coal, oil and gas companies spend a few tens of millions of dollars annually on lobbying, think tanks, and other public relations. They also spend billions on advertising, blanketing every medium. This is an industrial-strength, across-the-board propaganda campaign. They use every tool available. They are experienced, tough, and smart.

    It works very well. They don’t have to remind most “leaders”, or warn them, to stay in line. People understand power.

    Look at the price that Democrats paid in the House in 2010! (They had also paid in 1994 after just a nickel gas tax.) Money talks — very persuasively.

    Yet we will continue to work for the cause.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I thought that the Democrat losses in 2010 were down to reduced turnout, as demoralised Hope Fiends stayed home, after a mere two years of inaction.

  8. Theda Skocpol says:

    I am just going to let these arguments play out and eventually incorporate new insights into my further work. But let’s be clear on one thing. The Guardian’s headline is not my argument. Extremist Republicans are to blame for frustrating carbon caps and various other strong responses to climate change. That is what my report mainly spells out, in rich and specific detail, and it is what I argue about 2009-10.

    The point of the report is that sufficient coalition-building and political strength has to be built up well in advance to have inside and outside capacities, simultaneously mustered, to defeat the fiercely organized opponents. This is especially true in Congress when opponents can organize across many states and districts. Having a broad coaliton and a bill you can explain to real people helps.

    It is lazy to argue against a newspaper headline. Journalists do not even write their own headlines, and the people dicussed in the articles certainly do not. The title of my report makes it crystal clear that extremism is the opponent.

    Are environmentalists too thin skinned? Do they see enemies and critics that do not exist? And do the worry too much about what people say, and not enough about organization? Is there, perhaps, too much worry about blame and not enough worry about political power?

    According to Pooley’s book, by the way, Fred Krupp discouraged the adoption of reconciliation rules for cap and trade on the grounds that he did not want to undercut bipartisanship. That is Pooley saying it. For what it is worth, I think this is amazing, but was not decisive. There were not 51 votes in the Senate in 2010 for cap and trade. Many Dems defected or would have if they had, finally, to declare themselves.

    • Joe Romm says:

      Where does Pooley say that?

      There were certainly 51 votes for serious action — and yes, probably even cap-and-trade. I have talked to lots of folks about that. It would have likely gotten Republican votes, too, in the end, because who really wants to be on record as having opposed our best chance to avoid catastrophe.

      I am not an environmentalists so I can’t tell you if they are too thin skinned. I am not arguing against a headline. I am arguing against your paper. The headline is merely one (of many) such summaries by the media that exonerates Obama and pins the blame on the environmental community, which again, isn’t blameless but certainly is much less culpable than the president.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I’m afraid I took a too cynical view of your work on the basis of the Guardian story. What a dolt! As to environmentalists being ‘thin-skinned’ I’d have to agree. One tends to grow a mite tetchy when you see mass idiocy, fueled by MSM disinformation, driving humanity to destruction, and when that same Rightwing MSM endlessly preaches hatred (and, here in Australia, it is raw hatred, even to the extent of the MSM printing calls by opinion writers for ‘Greenies’ to be lynched)of Greens. Possibly more calamitous, the Green parties are suffering from the entryism of Rightist, ‘pro-market’ elements, presaging the sort of split between ‘realos’ and ‘fundies’ that wrecked to German Greens and left a neo-liberal rump. However, at the fundamental level, I disagree with your conclusion that ‘coalition building and political strength’ can achieve better results. The barriers to success are, at present, insurmountable. The political parties in your country, and throughout the West, are creatures of the real power, the money power. They ignore the public, no matter how great the agitation, in order to serve their real Bosses. Investing great energy and effort only to be ignored, rebuffed, or, in the Obama case (add Blair in the UK, and Rudd in Australia)conned, is greatly, and deliberately, demoralising. The next time the public in the USA is mobilised to push for some decent policy (rather than the astroturf mobilisation of ignorant, angry, dullards, as with the Tea Party) the powers-that-be inside the Democrats and the Big Green organisations will find new tactics to subvert the movement. Politics in the USA has decades of experience in perverting and subverting populist movements that threatened elite power, and they will act in that fashion to the bitter end.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Another problem with your analysis is the notion that the power brokers are green NGO’s, the Democrats, Obama, and the Tea Party.

      Yes, the green groups failed, but not because they made poor tactical decisions. Groups like NRDC, WWF, Nature Conservancy, Audubon etc did not fight effectively for a climate bill for a reason. Those organizations have long since been penetrated by major corporations with ties to fossil fuel companies. We failed in 2009 due to effective fossil fuel company control through cash disbursements to political leaders (including plenty of Democrats), the media, and green organizations. Tactics, Senate rules, and deliberations were not critical. Our once great country has been bought and sabotaged by a bunch of greed crazed hillbillies from oil states and bankers from Wall Street. We let it happen, and are the only ones who can stop them. That’s what a closer look at political science actually tells us.

    • Leland Palmer says:

      Yes, climate action was defeated by the “money power”- Wall Street. The organizations involved were astroturf, but ExxonMobil and a network of charitable right wing foundations including Scaife and Koch funded them.

      This is a policy that comes down directly from the top financial elite of our country. The writing was on the wall, I think, as soon as members of the Council on Foreign Relations like Scott Borgerson started writing and speaking about the wonders of a melting Arctic, including increased access to fossil fuel “resources” as the Arctic melts. This is the way the financial elite communicates their wishes- in the pages of Foreign Affairs, the official magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations.

      Media consolidation has led to the sale of our “free press” to a handful of shadowy organizations. Our mass media never were as free as we were brought up to believe, and have now been effectively controlled. When the NYT eliminates its environmental department even as an icecap melts and bushfires rage across Australia, that is no accident. One way or another, for one “reason” after another, our “free press” will refuse to cover the biggest story of the last 50 million years- the destabilization of the climate system and the probable triggering of a methane catastrophe.

      Can the power of our financial elites ever be broken? Only if an American President first lays the legal groundwork to charge the fossil fuel corporations and our financial elites for climate damages, bankrupts the fossil fuel corporations, and then nationalizes them, I think. But with Obama, that is not going to happen- he is a “Chicago Boy” a student of the Chicago school of free market economics.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        I see that the private banksters who own your so-called ‘Federal Reserve’ are about to receive, or already have had, another 100 year extension to their mandate to be the real, and invisible, Government of the USA. I don’t know what is funnier- the fact that the reserve bank of the most powerful country is actually a creature of private money power, not the elected Government (and that so few people know that truth) or that the banksters and their stooges really imagine that the system will survive another 100 years.

        • Leland Palmer says:

          Yes, hadn’t heard, thanks for the information about the Federal Reserve.

          Yes, it’s the same guys, so I believe.

          More reasonable financial elites would have a sense of limitation, and would realize that they are making their own capital useless and their own control of the system inadequate.

          Yes, it’s all pretty funny, in a beyond black humor sort of way. “Oh, let’s melt the Arctic to get at the hydrocarbons…uh…what are those methane geysers, anyway?”

          Is there an element of believing their own BS involved here?

          One thing about our financial elites, lately- they seem to have unlimited power to get their own way- witness our invasion of the Middle East, for example- but very poor judgement about what constitutes reasonable use of resources.

          But any energy system in which greenhouse heating from fossil fuel combustion is 100,000 times greater than useful heat of combustion is simply unsustainable, on the scale we are using fossil fuels.

          Too bad Nature can’t swat them without swatting the rest of us.

  9. Lisa Wright says:

    Bill McK says in Grist:”But that does lead me to the final point about Skocpol’s paper, one that bears remembering. Her interest is political science, not science, but it’s the latter that ultimately governs here. Political realism is nice, but physics is calling the dance.”

    McKibben is right, physics won’t wait. Skocpol’s narrative on climate inaction, to me, isn’t as important as the recognition that we need to come to terms with our current collective failure to deal w/climate effectively — and perhaps the best outcome of her work is that it could be used to further the conversation, inspire debate and correct/adjust the narrative to the greatest extent possible, letting the chips fall where they may. No one is blameless anymore, and good climate scientists, journalist/bloggers and advocates have awakened us even regular schmucks to the dire consequences of inaction. Tillerson’s “lazy” and “illiterate” Americans are less lazy and illiterate than he thinks.

  10. Theda Skocpol says:

    My interest in writing the report was not “political science,” it was understanding how to build the necessary political power to accomplish carbon caps. I use data of many kinds, and tools from various disciplines, including my own. But this report is not written in academic language. Deliberately. So people can read it.

    The report is, however, grounded in careful research and data analysis, and I find Romm’s gratuitious insults about it puzzling. What is he so personally upset about that he cannot acknowledge research — calling it “opinion”? Even if he does not like some passages, this is a resarch-based report, as many commentators realize, and it isn’t a report about about placing personal blame at all. I know that everyone was trying to do good.

    I would hope that folks at Think Progress, whose work I often use, would calm down and read the whole report and try to think about what it is saying about the future, the next steps needed to build the political power necessary to get carbon caps. The most startling thing to me is how many people in this policy domain, two years later, want to point personal fingers and throw insults, rather than build coalitions and power for the future. I don’t understand that.

    I follow Brulle’s work carefully. Nowhere does he suggest that talking about climate change could have passed legislation through Congress. No social scientist would ever say that.

    • Joe Romm says:

      I have read your report twice, which is more than most people commenting on it have. It isn’t based on reproducible research. It is, as I said, on oral history coupled with your opinions.

      None of these insults are gratuitous. I’m stunned by much of what you wrote as are countless other people, judging by my inbox. Since your report was not written in academic language you shouldn’t be in the least bit upset if the response was written in non-academic language.

      It is your report that has pointed fingers and thrown insults — essentially arguing that the primary reason the climate bill failed was the incompetence of the environmental community, their failure to adjust to a changing reality. You can’t be surprised that’s how it was read — that’s who the Guardian reporter it was leaked to read it!!

      I am, as I said, most certainly not defending the environmental community, but to miss Obama’s larger culpability, is to misanalyze the situation.

      I have spent hours on the phone with Brulle, republished and analyzed his work here at length. OF COURSE, he doesn’t suggest that talking about climate change could happen by itself pass legislation through Congress. But that is a reductio ad absurdum. The work you cite clearly shows that when political leaders (in this case Dems) talk about the climate threat, it moves public opinion. I am astonished you can cite his important work in a paper that dismisses the role of Obama and his team in completely shutting down any such public discussion. It is one of the most serious mistakes in the whole paper.

      • John McCormick says:

        Joe, you are shooting the messenger.

        A 142 page document is not likely to find favor with environmentalists who still feel the sting of having missed the best opportunity to get a House-passed bill enacted into law.

        You said: “It is your report that has pointed fingers and thrown insults — essentially arguing that the primary reason the climate bill failed was the incompetence of the environmental community, their failure to adjust to a changing reality.”

        My friend at WWF has tried to raise the strategy of telling the bold, hard truths about climate chaos on the horizon only to be shot down by the WWF marketing team. They fear it won’t sell T-shirts.

        I say the Panda and other exotic species are likely going into extinction eventually if we don’t all pull harder to turn this around. Paying to protect coastal habitats is a waste of resources given what we know about sea level rise. But, funders like the cuddly and groups are ready to appease the funders. Got to get over with this idea the big green have this figured out. No, they do not.

        NRDC encuraged Congressional funding of CCS in the early days of that horse crap. We, as a political movement have made some serious mistakes and I can go back to Carl Pope accepting $25 million from Chesapeake Energy to look into fracing. And, oh yes. David Brower said, back in late 60s the Navaho and Hopi coal was adequate to provide electicity to the Southwest so there is no need to build another hydro plant on the Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyons. History, folks.

        Mike Roddy is correct. Too much corporatism in the big greens. That was not how we started in 1970. We used IBM Selectric typewriters, worked in crowded and not expensive office space. That past will never return. So, a word to the thin-skinned…know thyself.

        And Theda, thank you for your effort.

        Consider it a first draft. Stay with your effort to describe the past four years and help us chart the course by changing our mindset to attack big fossil and the kochs…the true enemies. Get us to educate voters.

        You have as much standing in this discussion as anyone here. Don’t walk away from this open discussion. Take it to the next level. Go to the DNC and help the leaders learn from your report and make it happen.

        A time related problem and we are fussing about your finger-pointing.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Of course the panda is gone, as are most higher animals. We are in the beginning stages of the sixth mass extinction event, caused by Homo destructans, and the carnage will be dreadful. It will take millions of years for the biodiversity to be restored. Unless, of course, the ghouls who have brought this about, and who are fighting tooth and nail to prevent it being forestalled, are brought down. The big capitalists, the wealth accumulators, the luxury consumption crowd, the ‘winners-who-take-all’ ie the enemies of life, the Insatiables.

          • John McCormick says:

            Mulga, you and I are citizens of the largest fossil fuel exports and have to resolve the AGW head-on collision together. Put aside the cynical view that most of us share and focus on a very real approach to making America and Australia awaken to what you and I understand and the masses ignore or are unaware.

            So, the ball is in the air.

            Aside from crashing the global capitalist system ( a time related quest for which there is not time) you and we Americans have to come up with the next steps and likely on Joe’s blog. Enough hand rubbing and wailing from all of us.

            I am suggesting we here in America stage a very big-wig stage show of leaders including Clinton, Powell, Shultz and Swazenagger among others to take center stage on prime time cable (even the Colbert Show) to shout that the earth’ climate is almost terminal but there is a chance it can go into remission if the politics of our nation will change.

            For us Americans, taking control of the House of Representatives in 2015 is a moment-of-truth step and one that can be achieved….failure is the next unforgivable of US progressives. Either we believe what we know and read or we don’t. We seem to be verifying the latter lately.

            So, we all know the truth about the greedy bastards. Now what are the concrete steps, with a time line, Americans and Australians have to take to save our children’s future.

            Australia and America unite!!

            You have the Great Barrier Reef. We have Miami. Both are on the chopping block.

            I’ve waited for this comeback to you. Your comments are sometimes bitter pills but valued and respected as are many other contributors and commentors on this blog.

            We visitors owe appreciation for the team behind this page.

  11. catman306 says:

    If Obama uses his political capital on gun control, will there be any left for climate control?

    Or is that the point? (He’s tilting at windmills because if ALL gun sales were prohibited there would still be 300 million guns left in America.)

    • Sasparilla says:

      Maybe because the administration is not serious about climate change action and, at least from an administration standpoint, never has been (otherwise the areas under Obama’s control, EPA, Energy etc, would have done more serious things and they did the opposite for the most part). I think he’d sign a bill if someone got it through congress, but that’s about it (and I’d be sweating it as to whether he’d sign it or not if it was a serious climate change bill).

      The other point, and it is important to remember, is that there is no way any kind of climate change legislation would even get voted upon in the GOP controlled House. Other than areas President Obama has direct control over climate change legislation is dead until the House is taken out of the GOP’s hands (then we’re back to the 2009 point where we could have passed it but the Senate and Administration didn’t – and alot of money and power wanting it kept that way).

  12. Steve Bloom says:

    I think you’re missing some context, Joe.

    The main political lesson from ’94 was not to have a long drawn-out process for health care or climate. That lesson was ignored, with the consequence that the Tea Party had lots of breathing room at the start, further facilitated by an inadequate economic recovery plan that also left an impression of indecisiveness (because it was, what with a too small by half spending plan and highly insufficient help for underwater mortgagees.). Let’s also recall that the health care bill avoided creating any immediate benefits (immediate being defined relative to the 2010 election) around which grassroots support could rally, another huge error. The irony here is that a cold political calculation as to what would be needed to ensure a continued Democratic majority in both houses would have resulted in a vastly better legislative outcome. It’s as if they had something else in mind.

    While it’s clear from the gun business that the WH knows how to move decisively (and even there, we still have to see what the legislative follow-up will look like), the continued Grand Bargain obsession doesn’t provide much hope that they’re willing to apply the lesson more broadly.

    One other point: A climate bill would have needed to be an order of magnitude stronger than what was proposed in order to galvanize a large grassroots movement in support. That Skocpol thinks otherwise is a manifestation of an ivory tower POV.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Great points Steve.

    • Joe Romm says:

      I agree 100% with your last paragraph — and say as much in response to her comment here. It is mostly a waste of time to ask what Bill could have gotten 60 votes — or could have galvanized a grassroots movement, but the former required a much weaker bill (as Reid clearly understood) while the latter required something stronger, yes. That’s why I think her entire analysis is kind of pointless handwaving.

      YOU may have drawn that lesson from ’94, but the White House clearly drew the lesson that it should have been hands off the bill-making process — another tragic blunder as far as the climate bill goes.

  13. Theda Skocpol says:

    This last comment is sort of funny: I argue for a much stronger version — cap and dividend — which might do more to limit greenhouse gases and would energize a more powerful, popularly rooted coalition. So why am I accused of recommending too little?

    • Joe Romm says:

      It’s not funny. The Cantwell-Collins bill you praise was weaker in its 2020 target — a key issue for both environmentalists and those interested in an international deal — see here. If you read the link in my post, you’ll see why that bill never could have gone anywhere.

      I didn’t have time to bring up the other really big issue raised by your piece. The only plausible response available in response to the Tea Party (other than insisting on reconciliation) was a much weaker bill. It is inconceivable that one could have gotten 60 votes in the Senate for a bill STRONGER than Waxman-Markey. So I actually think you are trying to have it both ways — saying that the the Tea Party and radicalization of the GOP required a decisive response, but then trying to claim that response could possibly have been a stronger bill.

      • Theda Skocpol says:

        All I can say, Joe, is that a lot of people perceive your calling an obviously research based report “opinion” (using the blogger insult method to do it, by crossing out a word) as a sign of something off with you. It just is not wise to engage in that kind of insult.

        Of course, all the figures are reproducable and the time charts, etc. They are the research core of the report. Don’t you know where to find LCV scores? Every major point is footnoted throughout.

        I honestly do not know what you mean when you say this is an “oral history.” I made it clear from the start that the principal evidence for the report was NOT after the fact interviews. In an attempt to document and explain a failed policy push, after the fact interviews are not worth very much as evidence (except to understand what each actor sort of remembers, or is trying to explain away, and who he/she wants to blame). I am sorry I did not come to speak with you, but there were many I did not speak with, as I was doing more objective analyses.

        Blame, however, is not interesting to me — so hearing that you blame Obama would not have mattered to my report. You really do not seem to understand that I am NOT trying to aportion blame (except to GOP extemists, whom I call by their right name). At the end of the report, I pose questions for each strand in the environemntal movement. The questions deserve thought. I have done extensive empirical research on every single aspect of the things I discuss in the report. Insulting me does not cut it.

        I do not endorse the Collins-Cantwell bill,and am clear about that. A carbon tax with dividends could be much more democratically powerful than USCAP’s loophole ridden approach. And it might be more effective over time. The issue is not which policy is the perfect logical design — it is which approach could help build the political coalitions needed to get a law and raise standards over time. Deciding that is not up to me to do. Groups have to get together and pull for something. But it is political judgement, not pure science.

        We will have to agree to disagree that there were 51 Senate votes in the spring of 2010 for cap and trade. (Krupp had urged against reconciliation instructions,as you quote Pooley saying, so everyone knew that issue was moot). What I will say to you is that any scholar who studies policy episodes (and that is not your job, I understand) knows that what Senators tell you they might do is very, very thin evidence — even thinner when they tell you after the fact what they “might” have done, if…. There was never anything close to a whip count that got a majority — and remember, the diminishing majorities in the 2000s for the precursor bills. Democratic Senators were not lining up to push this approach. Many were slithering away or running to hide in advance of a tough election, which was shaping up as a disaster for their party.

        I have concluded that blaming Obama makes a lot of people in this policy sphere feel better. I find this strange. I don’t think Obama has done well on talking about climate change (and I hope and expect he talks more about during his second term). But I know for sure he could not have gotten cap and trade through the 111th Congress. And I find it amazing that so many of you remain so full of bitter recriminations toward him about something he could not have changed — the cap and trade outcome. Scapegoating is easier than strategic rethinking, perhaps?

        Brulle’s work is central to my report, as are repeated discussions with him and with many other leading scholars working on the politics of environmentalism and climate change. Science, alas, does not dictate political outcomes. so the insights of political analysts are relevant. I am not flying alone in their ranks. Although I am an outsider to environmentalism, so I do not have all the little details of group names memorized etc., I am one of the most respected political scientists/sociologists/policy analysts in the world. I was commissioned to take a cold hard, evidence-based look, which is exactly what I have done, at greater length and depth than originally intended, and very successfully according to a great many readers of the report.

        Disagree all you want — I surely have things wrong, and many issues are matters of judgment, where yours may be better (or may not). I expect to learn from the unfolding debate. But you should want to learn too, and cut the crappy insults. Look to the future — that is what my report asks you to do — and realize you cannot get there by just repeating past tactics. I don’t know exact what you did last time, and I am sure your heart was in the right place. But that is not enough, is it?

        Theda

        • Joe Romm says:

          If you view the cross-out as a serious insult, well, you aren’t a blogger, but I thought academics had thicker skin. That is pretty mild stuff.

          The issue of reconciliation was no more moot than your tax-and-dividend, which I know for a fact couldn’t have even passed the House. I doubt it would have gotten 100 votes. Your claim that there weren’t 51 votes in the Senate, but that is just your opinion. You can say you did lots of research, but that is just your opinion. I’ve done a lot of research too, and everyone I talked to thinks that with Obama behind it, 51 was achievable.

          You don’t have research to back up all your claims. You can’t even back up the claim that Obama’s lack of leadership wasn’t important (or that Krupp had more persuasive power than the President!) — and many major scholars have research that disagrees. I guess I’ll have to do another post pointing out yet more areas where your claims aren’t backed up by research just so folks know I’m not cherrypicking.

          The point is your misread the past so your views of the future are just opinions — and many folks think they are wrong.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Altogether very depressing. This sort of squabbling gets humanity nowhere. The Climate Bill was killed, and the murderers are as numerous as those who plunged the knives into Caesar. Some knives were bigger than others, and the assassins were merely doing the dirty work of their Masters, hidden in plain sight in the corridors of moneyed privilege. But surely the priority now is to mobilise and pressure Obama and the Democrats to do something concrete, and soon, and if he is not forthcoming then it must be time for direct action. Mass non-violent protests, mass arrests, mass incarceration, non co-operation with the genocidal system, law-suits, boycotts, hunger strikes by religious and academic leaders etc. Something, anything, just no more internecine cackling and finger pointing. Good night and good luck!

    • Joe Romm says:

      True enough, Mulga. But a big-time scholar wrote a 140-page “analysis” that will be the subject of a major academic discussion and possibly lead to certain actions by the funding and environmental communities to the extent that they accept the analysis. So I thought the record needed to be set straight.

      • Theda Skocpol says:

        Ah, yes, “funding.” Now I know what worries you, Joe.

        Don’t worry, I do not have that kind of influence.

        Theda

        • Steve Bloom says:

          Not directly, but that foundation types are constantly on the lookout for shiny new toys shouldn’t be a surprise to you.

          • John McCormick says:

            Steve, I respect your comments where I find them..RC, CP, etc. But, Icall that a cheapshot.

            And, I will repeat an earlier comment:

            Theda, thank you for your effort.

            Consider it a first draft. Stay with your effort to describe the past four years and help us chart the course by changing our mindset to attack big fossil and the kochs…the true enemies. Get us to educate voters.

            You have as much standing in this discussion as anyone here. Don’t walk away from this open discussion. Take it to the next level. Go to the DNC and help the leaders learn from your report and make it happen.

            A time related problem and we are fussing about your finger-pointing.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Fair enough, Joe, but my concern is the rancour. I got carried away by reading The Guardian report, an unforgiveable error, and thought this must be a hatchet job designed to spread dissension. Unlike you, I’ve not read the whole thing, and I certainly bow before your much greater knowledge of how the disaster unfolded. I really think that we ought to all draw breath, find whatever common ground there is, agree to disagree, but then act together and quickly to force Obama to fight the good fight, and make the Big Green groups finally act as if they believe their own rhetoric. And appeals by the populace for the political superstructure to act rationally and humanely seem doomed to failure, so I’d recommend mass agitation, simply because there is no alternative left. If Obama OKs Keystone, surely that is the cause for which it would be right and good to spend some time in gaol, or starving yourself in protest, or organising boycotts. It’s bigger than Vietnam and greater than civil rights.

        • Steve says:

          I agree with you, Mulga, on not seeing the wisdom or usefulness of all the in-fighting over a hypothetical vote and an abstract blame-game.

          I also agree that much of the time and money spent in Washington is doomed to failure, and better spent in progressive state capitals or even cities, while also reaching out directly and unequivocally with that segment of the population which can be educated and motivated… a public health campaign of sorts.

          My other comment is in moderation…

        • Larry Gussin says:

          I hope Suzanne Goldenberg, the Guardian reporter, joins this dialog. Did she write a bad article? She wrote what I thought was a fine piece on Obama bailing on climate in 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/01/obama-strategy-silence-climate-change

          • Theda Skocpol says:

            TLike all news articles, the Guardian article was given a headline by editors — looking to stoke controversy. Reporters do NOT write their own headlines. And people whose reports or views are supposedly described in articles certainly do not. Don’t all of you understand the basics of journalism?

            LESSON: Don’t react to headlines. Don’t get angry at reports based on snippets or headlines. READ STUFF. I know this is old-fashioned, but I find it terribly depressing that so many people are characterizing and dismissing something I spent months researching based on a misleading headline and out of context quotes. Or treating someone who has spent decades fighting for democratic causes in America as an agent of denialists. I am no such thing.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            As I said above, I’m a dolt who jumped to conclusions based on the Guardian heading and story. Let’s face it-the denialist industry is highly adept at sowing dissension amongst its enemies, and the climate realist camp is prone to in-fighting. I’m very much abashed by having acted in an uniformed and reflex manner. Having briefly been a member of the Greens in Australia, and seen the degree of contention that arose over nullities, like ‘bald men fighting over a comb’ as somebody says, I know how easily petty differences can be played up and crazy little ego battles get in the way of ‘progress’.
            Which is why I think blame is probably best widely distributed. The Tea Party monstrosity and its rich patrons bear heavy responsibility, the professional prevaricators and procrastinators of the Democrat leadership, who really do not want to upset the money power for whom fossil fuels are the ‘greatest material prize in history’, the Big Green groups who long ago sold out in return for the occasional friendly fondling from the money power and its MSM apparatus and rank and file climate realists who ought to be marching up and down outside the Capitol until they get action, all share differing degrees of the blame.
            It is much easier for the forces of evil to ‘get their act together’. They are innately and irredeemably anti-democratic and authoritarian. They need only obstruct everything, with the tactics of unflinching opposition, sabotage and delay that we all know so well. They need not propose anything new, need not plan effectively or convince anyone. They only need to keep the status quo operational, so have institutional and social inertia on their side. They have the money, the unprincipled MSM apparatchiki and the politicians on their side and in their pockets, and the only countervailing force, the public, is bowed down and cowed by mountains of debt and poor paid and precarious work, so have no appetite for social and economic upheaval. It’s a real series of dilemmas, of dilemmas squared and raised to the power of infinity. To break through requires hanging together and abjuring the dubious delights of getting stuck into one another. Here endeth the sermon.

    • Spike says:

      The article in the Guardian made me, a Brit with no real knowledge of US politics, nauseated.

      What a gift to the denialist industry to have someone who seems on the surface to support action on the biggest existential threat to mankind attacking groups who are part of the broad progressive coalition on this issue and ignoring the far greater culpability elsewhere. I was left wondering once again is this cock up or conspiracy?

      As Mulga says it’s profoundly dispiriting, and it must have been trebles all round in many seats of privilege that day.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        If you read Theda’s posts you’ll see that she was misrepresented by ‘The Guardian’. She’s got a good deal of heavy criticism which she probably does not deserve, which is lamentable, and which will have the troublemakers chortling into their Bollinger. Nothing new there-the MSM, even the so-called ‘liberal’ papers, are dedicated to spreading dissension amongst the opposition to corporate rule and money power. Personally, despite some good features, and the mostly admirable Mr Monbiot (who gets some things spectacularly wrong, but most things right-forgive my conceit)I’d not trust The Guardian as far as I can throw a copy.

  15. DCIvan says:

    Theda you need to back up the assertion that there were not 51 votes for KGL. That statement is no more plausible or believable to those of us who were vote counting at the time than the idea that Cap and Dividend would have garnered 50+ votes.

    I think a lot of your conclusions about building a grassroots movement and our approach to power make total sense. What I baffled me about your piece was how selective it was in the history.

    A passing glance at what happened with Senator Graham, not even including the prospect that it was a stronger bill with no drilling that drove him from the table.

    No mention of Senator McCaskill and her ilk who played for big coal without any cost until the next Congress.

    Your understanding of the targets for advocacy groups during the senate fight seems completely different from what was actually happening on the ground and on the air.

    Like I said, I agree with some of your conclusions about the needs going forward but you left some huge holes and inconsistencies as your tried to get there. Joe on the other hand kind of nailed it in a blog post.

  16. DCIvan says:

    Theda you need to back up the assertion that there were not 51 votes for KGL. That statement is no more plausible or believable to those of us who were vote counting at the time than the idea that Cap and Dividend would have garnered 50+ votes.

    I think a lot of your conclusions about building a grassroots movement and our approach to power make total sense. What I baffled me about your piece was how selective it was in the history.

    A passing glance at what happened with Senator Graham, not even including the prospect that it was a stronger bill with no drilling that drove him from the table.

    No mention of Senator McCaskill and her ilk who played for big coal without any cost until the next Congress.

    Your understanding of the targets for advocacy groups during the senate fight seems completely different from what was actually happening on the ground and on the air.

    Like I said, I agree with some of your conclusions about the needs going forward but you left some huge holes and inconsistencies as your tried to get there. Joe on the other hand kind of nailed it in a blog post.

    • Theda Skocpol says:

      I sort of mock Graham in the report itself (mock his claim that immigration made him do it), so I do not know what you mean about that. I don’t name McCaskill because I did not take time to go through the long list of Dem Senators who would not have been there, if this had gotten even close to a vote. It didn’t, and Reid won’t bring stuff up unless he has the votes.

      I make the more important point that the BP horizon blowup undermined the bargaining going on in the Senate. Of course, making concessions on offshore drilling was part of that. Bargainers were going to use that to get a few more votes, they hoped. BP also divided and embittered enviros more than ever.

      I understand that DC insiders think they know who will vote how. Respectfully, for reasons just outlined in my repy to Joe, I think that is very often an illusion. Most political scientists would agree it is — and they have the track record to back up their doubts about insider guesses.

      I do not have to “prove” that there were not 51 votes. Why would I spend time on an illusion and an irrelevance? Reconciliaton had long since been ruled out in that Senate session. With all due respect, those of you who want to hang an entire retrospective assessment on a unicorn — the supposed existence of 51 votes in a scaredy-cat Senate, on an issue that all Senators knew at the time needed 60 votes — you are the ones who have to prove it (and you would be wasting your time if you did). The same reasons it was going to take 60 votes help to explain why reconciliation rules were not put in place in the first place.

      No evidence I have seen in anything indicates that cap and trade wishes were ever close to beoming enacted bills in that Senate. A few hopes at CAP, excuse me, are not evidence. Nor are a few sweet-talking words from CYA Senators. Wishing it might have been true does not make it so.

      Best, T.

      • Steve Bloom says:

        BTW, thanks so much for being willing to come out in public to debate all of this. It’s very helpful.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Do you think it is even remotely possible that a Congress dependent on the contributions of the rich in a capitalist society will ever vote to impinge the prerogatives of the central pillar of that system, the fossil fuel colossus? I believe that they will always find a way to fail, so long as it looks like someone else’s greater responsibility, merely for PR purposes. They will ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’.

      • DCIvan says:

        Theda,

        First, I too appreciate you talking this through here. Kudos for that.

        Why, you ask, should you have to prove there were not 51 votes in the senate?

        Because you state it as fact, and it has central relevance to your claims on strategy. I think a social scientist has an obligation to back up their claims. I don’t mean at a standard of claiming how each and every senator would have voted three years in the rear view mirror, but there has to be some data to support a claim like that or make it reasonable.

        This claim of yours is particularly important because it is central to Romm’s critique of the strategy as it relates to reconciliation – something you chose to ignore.

        My recollection even in our darkest days of a fight in the Senate was that we could get to the low to mid 50s but we were not at 60 without a big break on the republican side.

        The break never came, maybe it never would have as you seem to believe. Hard to argue that given the reality. But the difference on this vote count is central to any analysis of strategy at the time and for you to essentially claim it as fact one moment and then blow it off the next does not do credit to the rigor of your analysis.

        The McCaskill (and others) thing matters too and here is why. The belly aching from conservative democrats who take their cues from utilities is a HUGE factor in the dynamics of the leadership in the Senate and the WH. To not explore that is a giant hole in the analysis of what was happening and why.

        It also matters in your critique of the “USCAP” campaign because you portray the campaign as being focussed on GOP with alarming (and accurate) failure. But that is not even close to the full story. Most efforts on the outside were about keeping democrats together. Again, maybe you think this is all irrelevant to your analysis but you should understand that much of the reaction to your piece is driven by this sense that you have spent 140 pages and still have huge holes or missing pieces that significantly undermine the credibility of your analysis.

        (BTW, your constant reference to the “USCAP” Campaign is itself a significant mischaracterization of the outside efforts on this bill. USCAP essentially did not exist during much of this debate and the outside effort was being led by groups that had no role in USCAP, and had objected to much of what had been done by USCAP. I get that it is a convenient shorthand for your analysis and writing but it just rings so untrue to the facts of what was going on a the time).

        LIke I said, I agree with the fundamental summary that we need a movement behind this stuff. No argument there. Was there a movement at the time? No. Did the 350.org, 1Sky, Step It Up efforts that are in alignment with your critique adequately provide that in the time period? No. Could they have in the time period we were talking about? I don’t think so and you don’t provide much evidence to support that while you seem to hold out some theory that cap and dividend would have sparked it. I don’t see any evidence for that, certainly not at the scale that would have gotten us to 60 votes.

        So while I coincidently agree with much of the analysis going forward, the only plausible way to apply it in hindsight would have been to not even try a legislative route. That is why I am not particularly concerned about your critique from a defensive hind sight position. I just don’t think even at the time it would have been that useful or applicable unless it was to suggest what we all know now, which is we should have abandon ship WAY earlier.

        I also think most observers who are involved with both the movement side and the legislative side (go ask Brune) would say that even your prescriptions going forward will take a long time, that Congress is not going to do anything constructive any time soon, and that expectations to the contrary are not supported by much evidence or credible analysis.

        • Theda Skocpol says:

          Let me reply on the 51 vote question specifically. I should not have said “I do not have to prove it,” when my real point is that no one can prove it — and the weight of supposition, from a political science perspective, has to be that there was NOT a majority of Senators in spring of 2010 ready to vote for an actual cap and trade bill.

          Here is why: For 51 votes to be a meaningful standard in the spring of 2010, the reconciliation rules would have had to be in place from 2009. But they were not. Everyone in the Senate that spring knew that 60 would be needed. As long as the proponents of cap and trade were not close to 60, Senators could fudge their positions, or not declare one. Reid might have had informal indications from many Democrats. If he had had over fifty votes for sure, he might well have called a vote for the historial record. In fact, he did not even gesture toward calling a vote. There was never any Senate bill finalized to actually vote on, either.

          More than that NO ONE can know. Not Romm, not Skocpol, not God himself. Going now to ask Senators what they “might have done two years ago if they had been required to vote” is not likely to garner any useful information. They don’t have to be truthful; and they may not know. Even back then, they did not have to be truthful or really know. Moderate Democrats facing cross pressures had and have a strong incentive either to evade answering — or to tell questioners what they think each person would like to hear. No one can prove them wrong, whatever they say. All we can do is observe that in the spring of 2010 no vote came close to being taken.

          I hope this makes sense. I am not trying to say I could prove it, but won’t. I am saying no one can adduce real evidence after the fact for such an entirely speculative matter.
          Sixty votes was the governing standard.

          Theda S.

          • Joe Romm says:

            But that is precisely why there is no analogy to health care. Once dem senators knew it could be done with 51, they had zero incentive to oppose it and piss off donors and the base. It changes the entire dynamics.

            For the record, most vote counts were above 51. And yes, my point is the mistake was made in 2009, not 2010. Reid wasn’t going to call a vote he knew he’d lose. When does he do that?

            If you don’t know whether there were 51 votes, then you don’t know if your main conclusion is correct.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Deja vu, all over (and over) again.

  17. Thomas Rodd says:

    I feel that Theda’s article makes a lot of important points. What is the point of second guessing or blaming Obama? By any measure the USCAP effort failed to develop enough power to make him and others do certain things. My very limited experience in the “field” was that this effort did not build real grassroots power very well, maybe due to the somewhat insular/narrow/elite character of environmental groups. I think questions of future big effort funding are very legitimate and I welcome Theda’s starting that discussion in a public way. It’s not necessary to agree with everything she says to welcome her thoughts.

  18. Gestur says:

    Joe, thank you for this honest, probing and important post. I was hoping you would weigh in on this after I read the interview she gave Brad Plumer at Wonkblog in the WAPO on Wednesday. I’m grateful that you did. I’ll refrain from commenting directly on the various points raised and make instead what I hope is a bow toward Occam’s Razor.

    Let me start by saying that I respectfully differ with you, Joe, on the weight I would place collectively on these failures of the Obama Administration. But mostly, and again with respect to both you and to the many thoughtful comments given, I would simply note that we can argue about proximate versus ultimate causation till the cows come home. Personally, I believe that these many—I think we can only call them missteps—by the Obama Administration strongly argue that he did not value then—nor does he value now—the enactment of meaningful climate change legislation at all highly. And so very much of what we’ve painfully witnessed these past four years follows directly from that basic under-valuation on his part. And so very much of what we have to do now also follows from it, as Mulga so eloquently keeps reminding us.

  19. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Both the USA and the global community have goten themselves into an awful mess which normal means can’t fix, as the current ‘debate’ shows. When that happens, long term studies of social change indicate that sooner or later there will be an almighty crack somewhere and when we wake up the next morning, the (social) parts will have rearranged themselves. It doesn’t happen often but the whole system is straining at the edges and such a crack somewhere is inevitable, ME

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Lovely thought, Merrelyn, but I really cannot think of a situation such as you describe. In my recollection of history societies that crack then go through unpleasant turmoil, with class, sectarian, inter-generational, and geographic (town versus country etc) struggles, often violent, often protracted, before social peace is restored. Furthermore, usually there are winners and losers aplenty, sowing the seeds of more trouble even after generations have passed. Moreover the stakes here are the highest in history.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Not lovely Mulga for the reasons you point out – the old bosses do not go down without a fight. I am hoping this time we have sufficient knowledge to realize that it is not the old bosses that are the problem but the fact that we have bosses at all. I see this awareness growing although not particularly strongly on CP. The crack will occur when there is a critical mass of people prepared to assume the responsibility for the future that is rightfully theirs and manage their affairs accordingly. Looks now as if it will be whatever survivors are left, ME

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          I’m with you all the way! I’m still waiting for the state to wither away, and old Ma Gaia to make a comeback and kick all those ego-projection patriarchal Big Daddies in the Sky back into the recesses of the God-Botherers’ psyches. I just turned out a few boxes of books, and found not a few volumes of Fromm, Reich and a slim volume by Jim Cairns. I think I’ll read them again, starting with Cairns, who saw through the futile charade of politics, and into a deeper reality, for which he was harassed, hectored and derided by MSM dullards, to his credit.

    • Ken Barrows says:

      If politics cannot change our culture of addiction to fossil fuels, it’s useless. I don’t see how any carbon tax, cap and trade, fee and dividend scheme is going to change culture. So politics is useless re: climate change.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Sorry Ken but I am not talking about politics or things like carbon taxes. I am talking about the sort of massive social or cultural upheavals that appear sudden and unpredicted but are the result of gradual change taking place below the surface that break through when the social system can no longer contain the tensions. Think of the rapid break up of the USSR or the global outbreak of ‘cultural revolution’ during the 1960s, ME

  20. It is not the responsibility of “environmentalists” to solve the climate crisis.

    If we are relying on environmental groups in any meaningful way on climate change then we are in a LOT of trouble. Enviro groups vs the entire global fossil fuel industry?! The power mismatch is a joke. Crank the burner to 11 and give up.

    Solving the climate crisis requires the biggest powers in civil, political and corporate society to push hard for a solution. Without the President of the USA participating big time we are toast.

  21. I don’t know how to assign percentages of the blame, and I am not sure it is even necessary. Politicians are not acting on Cap and Trade or on any similar bill because the public is not galvanized on the issue. Furthermore, one segment of the public is so dead set against taking the issue seriously that it would erupt in anger at any action on climate. In general, people are somewhat worried, which produces some positive responses on polls, but they are far more worried about other things, which puts climate far down the line on polls that give people a free choice about what is important.

    Regardless of whether we are talking about 5% or 95% of the blame, not too many politicians will push the public under those circumstances. Yes, I know, responsible politicians should lead. But most of them are not going to push that much.

    Similarly, the politicians did not want any part of gun control since part of the public is set so strongly against it while the rest until recently was pretty indifferent. Then the Connecticut shooting galvanized the public on guns so the politicians had to respond. The climate itself will eventually galvanize the public, but of course a lot of very important time will be lost by then.

    I think that one important reason that the public and the politicians hesitate is that three or four or even ten degrees of warming just doesn’t sound like all that much to people who are used to more change than that from winter to summer and even from night to day. And, yes, I understand the difference, so you don’t have to explain it to me. But I think there needs to be more of an effort to explain publically why just a few degrees of average warming can be so important.

    Remembering the “Now make me do it” remark attributed to FDR, we can demand all the action we wish from politicians, but it won’t happen unless there is some critical mass of the public demanding it along with us.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      The media won’t explain what 3-4 degrees actually means because their bosses have told them to not frighten the horses (us).

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      You seem to be saying that the USA has become a ‘lowest common denominator’ society, where the idiot fraction of the populace, when manipulated into a fever pitch by rich men and their flunkies and a diabolical Rightwing MSM hate machine, call all the shots, even to the point of self-destruction. That sounds just like Australia.

  22. John Hartz says:

    I highly recommend that everyone check out:

    “Revealed: The Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics” by Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, Jan 9, 2013

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/democracy-initiative-campaign-finance-filibuster-sierra-club-greenpeace-naacp

    The article describes how key leaders in both the liberal and environmental movements have recently come together to create a much needed “Democracy Initiative.”

    Let’s focus on moving forward rather than raking each other over the coals of what happened in the past.

  23. Mark Hays says:

    I’m familiar with a wide range of players in the climate fight; professionally and personally; those inside the Beltway and Out. I’ve been personally involved in the climate fight at various points throughout the past decade, as well as on the periphery. Given that perspective (with its insights and gaps) At first glance, I was somewhat astonished and the ferocity of the response here. At second glance, it became all too clear – people going into advocacy mode (defend my position, my friends and my choices at all costs!) when dialogue mode might serve better. My reading of the report was that it didn’t presume to capture, categorize and prioritize all of the reasons why the climate bill failed, but to focus on some less-understood, less acknowledged factors for failure – that is, the development and mobilization of grassroots power that is coupled with policy advocacy (not apart from it). To be clear, this is not just public education or ‘rallies’ or bolder actions. It’s about building coordinated, disciplined power, district by district and using it as the foundation from which the policy platform is built. The irony is that the responses to this proposition in this space seem to be as polarized as the Congress Skocpol describes, yet amongst rank and file climate activists, you’d probably see more moderation (thus mirroring the electorate Skocpol described). Yes, procedure mattered (whether it was voting counting, filibusters or reconciliation. Yes, USCAP business partnership had the potential for promise and peril. Yes, cap and trade was leaky; yes cap and dividend was untested and lacked political buy-in. Yes, corporate funded denialists outspent us, outflanked us and dealt underhanded blows. Yes, lefty activists confused isolation with the left flank. Yes, insider players confused access with power. The search for the one silver bullet is fruitless – even hard scientists won’t deliver that to you, and the critiques of ‘political science’ here misses its value. The important thing is how these pieces of the puzzle fit together dynamically, not hierarchically. The irony is that the movement I saw had many of the right pieces and players, but didn’t connect them right; didn’t sequence them right. The reason I think Skopcol’s central thesis holds (however she came about it; I’ll set that aside) is that more power wins, no matter how the game plays out. I believe the climate movement did right by seeking unusual allies; by arming itself with expertise and policy prowess; by mounting public education efforts and working to understand how to communicate more effectively and by working with decision makers (either pushing them or pull them) to get them to engage decisively. But none of these things are necessarily the same thing as political power, at least, not raw political power. They are all power by proxy. Actual power – boots on the ground power – comes alot more slowly and in a more difficult fashion. It is dirtier and less glamorous than insiders understood and less glorious and more ethically murky than most left activists are willing to admit. So, Skocpol saying ultimately that ‘if the environmental had built itself a stronger – that is, powerful, trained, mobilized, rigorously structured yet nimble – grassroots movement, AND linked it successfully with a shrewd insider political strategy and been able to find the right pivot point between those two, it would have been able to navigate the barriers and the increasingly hostile territory better, doesn’t seem that earth-shattering or heretical to me. The movement would have had more options; it could have made it more politically costly for erstwhile champions to fail us. It could have retrenched and had enough resources to hunker down for a long siege. But we didn’t.
    Obama certainly shares a large chunk of the blame, both for reasons related to moral obligation (he should have done it) and for political reasons (he should have played his hand smarter). But I can say in the same breath that we should have dealt ourselves a better hand to begin with. I also think some of the comments here that insinuate Obama got elected by a pro-climate electorate are a bit naive. I agree with the reading that environmental support is broad but thin in the electorate. My subjective but real experience of this goes no further than die-hard progressives, political activists that I know. Even in this small, lefty wing of the political spectrum, ask any of them if they think climate action is imperative, they’ll say yes. But in the last four years I saw many more of them galvanized by other progressive fights. Maybe it’s because those were issues that resonated with them more. Or, maybe they saw a better shot at, or better plan for, winning. We can criticize them just like the president and say they ought to know better, and we might be right, morally speaking. But that doesn’t matter. Ultimately it comes back to what the environmental community, which needs to do better organizing; to not take for granted the support of other progressives or the mainstreams but to constantly cultivate it, secure it, marshall it. Consequently this fighting about how much Obama is to blame; whether the right procedure was used are tactical questions, and miss the broad strategic imperative for better organizing, regardless of the conditions.

    • Thomas Rodd says:

      Mark Hays, I share your surprise at the vehemence of the attacks on Theda’s piece (I read it all.) I guess that’s my naivete showing.

      For example, the comments by Leland Palmer suggesting that Theda is a Rockefeller-enabled agent provocateur, are, to me, very discouraging — at least, to find them on this blog.

      Joe Romm, perhaps you should look a little inward and think about what kind of example you are setting in your remarks and thinking. Perhaps you should have started your post by saying that the concerns Theda brings to the table are quite understandable, and that her analysis should be useful as these discussions and debates go forward.

      • Joe Romm says:

        I don’t think her analysis is that useful. I view parts of it as counterproductive. What’s funny is that I have been highly critical of much of the strategy of environmental groups — their acquiescing to climate silence, for instance — so it’s odd for me to be their defender.

        Yes the notion that she is anyone’s agent provocateur is incorrect. She wanted to do the provoking herself. But if you release an un-peer-reviewed paper that says that environmental community failed through incompetence, but Obama is blameless, well, you can’t really be surprised if that does provoke a response.

        • Thomas Rodd says:

          I think it’s not so much the fact of your response, Joe, but more your perceived-as-off-key tone and approach, that I and others are reacting to.

          I remember when Obama was elected, a longtime climate policy leader friend of mine in DC, who had come to think that the mainstream Big Green groups were being both naive and grandiose, heard Obama’s first public talk about where he wanted to go on climate.

          My friend was aghast at how the speech, which pleased the green audience immensely (and that I had thought was a good sign), committed to limits that were that were politically unfeasible; and that this was a sign that things were not going to go well.

          Later, here in a coal state, my impression was that the USCAP effort would not spend money to help try to move moderate opinion leaders toward accepting any form of carbon caps. It very much seemed like an “inside the Beltway” strategy.

          Anyhow, Theda seems to be taking these criticisms, that do not acknowledge her good faith and interesting insights, without rancor. So I expect to read more good stuff from her here on Climate Progress.

          Thanks for the great work you do.

      • Leland Palmer says:

        Well, I haven’t read the report, but I did do a couple of searches for keywords in the report.

        Here’s something that popped up:

        “Acknowledgment: This report was originally commissioned as an analysis by the
        Rockefeller Family Fund in conjunction with Nick Lemann, Dean of the Columbia
        School of Journalism. The contents and results were left entirely to my discretion. ”

        Commissioned?

        This is a paid report?

        How much was she paid?

      • Leland Palmer says:

        Apparently, this report is not unique. From page 131 in the report:

        “[Reference-LP} 9 Petra Bartosiewicz and Marissa Miley, The Too Polite Revolution: Why the Recent Campaign to Pass Comprehensive Climate Legislation in the United States Failed (January 2013). Their report was also commissioned by the Rockefeller Family Fund in conjunction with the Columbia School of Journalism.”

        So now we have two reports both commissioned by the Rockefeller Family Fund, both of which blame the failure of climate change legislation on some entity other than the apparently Rockefeller controlled ExxonMobil, and their well documented funding of paid climate change disinformation.

        It’s nice to know that the trillion dollar motive that ExxonMobil has for blocking effective climate change legislation was not the decisive factor in defeating that legislation. Current value of ExxonMobil controlled oil reserves is on the order of a trillion dollars.

        So, it’s nice to know it’s not the guys with the trillion dollar motive that did it- it’s those “incompetent” and “too polite” environmentalists and so on who killed climate change legislation in the United States, according to these reports commissioned by the Rockefeller Family Fund.

  24. Leland Palmer says:

    Blaming the victim for the crime is a very old propaganda technique.

    This seems like a classic agent provocateur strategy, meant to get the strongest proponents of climate change sniping at each other.

    What really matters, these days, are connections to conservative “charitable” foundation funding, for such suspicious and patently ridiculous claims.

    Harvard University is a big recipient of funding from the conservative “charitable” foundations, including those funded by the Koch brothers, the Olin foundation, ExxonMobil, and the list goes on.

    The prize, though, is a grant of 100 million dollars from David Rockefeller himself. I believe this is only the latest of a series of grants from the Rockefeller family to Harvard.

    David Rockefeller is the Chairman Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations- and Scott Borgerson who wrote so glowingly about the wonders of a melting Arctic is a David Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    The Rockefeller family is also arguably in control of ExxonMobil, which is the direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly. It is the reunion of two of the fragments of that monopoly, broken up by U.S. government antitrust action in 1913, I think it was.

    The Rockefeller faction always wins the proxy fights for control of the corporation, as recently as 2006 it “won” such a “fight”, sending Lee Raymond CEO of ExxonMobil back to Texas with his 400 million dollar golden parachute. Lee Raymond set up the ExxonMobil funded climate denial astroturf network, in the first place. Losing a “fight” but getting a 400 million dollar golden parachute is not a bad job, by the way. Four hundred million dollars can fund a lot of wound licking, so to speak. So, I suspect it was a sham fight, and a way to retire Lee Raymond when the heat was getting a little too great for his astroturf climate denier network. Now Tillerson is running things, funding the same think tanks- but just being a little quieter about it.

    So now, a scholar with ironclad credentials publishes what appears to be an agent provocateur propaganda piece, meant to get the climate movement bickering with each other.

    And, oh…wait… her university just happens to be the recipient of a grant for 100 million dollars from David Rockefeller himself.

    Could be a coincidence, I guess. Enough money, though, seems to be able to BUY such coincidences.

    I’m not going to spend my time wading through 140 pages of questionable stuff, when the conclusion is so obviously wrong.

    As always, as recent studies which showed upwards of 90% of professional climate deniers have some connection to ExxonMobil demonstrated yet again, it is the fossil fuel dominated financial core of this country who are to blame for blocking effective climate change action.

    ExxonMobil, unlike the environmental groups, has something like a TRILLION DOLLAR MOTIVE for blocking such effective climate action.

    • John McCormick says:

      Leland, you had me going… up to this point:

      “I’m not going to spend my time wading through 140 pages of questionable stuff, when the conclusion is so obviously wrong.”

      That is poor journalism to be certain. Knowing a conclusion is wrong when one hasn’t read the conclusion is a mind game.

      • Leland Palmer says:

        My take on it is that the way to keep from being conned by disinformation put out by ExxonMobil and their ilk is to simply rely on other sources of information…that have not received hundred million dollar grants from David Rockefeller.

      • Leland Palmer says:

        Scroll down to the part about the trillion dollar motive for blocking effective climate action…that’s the good part. :)

      • Rick Piltz says:

        The Rockefeller Family Fund is a comparatively small and progressive operation. It supports reform advocacy on environmental, government accountability, and other issues. If you go to their website and look at the organizations they’ve funded you’ll see that they are not about fronting for ExxonMobil or being provocateurs out to harm the environmental community. This attack on them is just B.S. rhetoric.

        • Joe Romm says:

          I agree.

        • Leland Palmer says:

          When I wrote the agent provocateur stuff, I didn’t know that the funding was actually trough the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

          Still, they did commission the reports, and I didn’t commission the reports. The conclusion that the reports comes to is silly- ignoring the corporate entity with a trillion dollar motive and a known history of deliberate corporate misbehavior and disinformation is silly. Blaming well meaning, earnest and hard working environmental groups for the defeat of climate legislation in the U.S. is silly.

          I don’t care enough about the Rockefeller Brothers fund to attack them. But, it turns out that the funding trail for these ridiculous reports leads there- back into Rockefeller family influence.

          It just does, sorry.

          • Joe Romm says:

            Did you know I worked for the Rockefeller Foundation for 2 years, under Peter Goldmark, 1990-1991. Hard to find a trace of corporate thinking there.

          • Rick Piltz says:

            Recall that back in 1964 there was a divergence when the Goldwater/right-wing Republicans overthrew the Rockefeller/northeastern moderate Republicans and launched the Rs on a path that led through Reagan and Bush2 to the hard right entity it has predominantly become today, and that is supported by the likes of ExxonMobil, a latter-day incarnation of the old Rockefeller Standard Oil fortune. On the other hand, there are plenty of people managing the complex array of Rockefeller nonprofit funds that support charitable, medical, educational, and public interest advocacy work in the U.S. and internationally who have no use for the right-wingers. Some of the Rockefeller funds support activists who oppose ExxonMobil and corporate power on climate change and other issues. Need to see this in terms of a complex and multifaceted power elite.

    • Joe Romm says:

      Blame the victim, indeed!

  25. Andrew says:

    You can give rightwing media and politicans your percentage of the blame, but it is the shortcoming of environmental organizations that resulted in a void of visible grassroots support to counter rightwing punditry and historionic tea party protests.

    As a budding climate activist in 2009 I offered my (uncompensated!) time to an unnamed part of 350.org alliance 9-5, 7 days a week. I was very disapointed with the training they offered, the menial and shortsighted tasks they assigned to me, and the overall results of the effort.

    For me, Skocpol’s assessment stands. You can whine about how much money the oil executives threw against the environmental movement, but in my experience the environmentalists’ available resources were misused.

  26. Joe Romm says:

    That was after team Obama let it be known that they didn’t want it for climate, but did for health care, so I’m not sure what point you are making.