McKibben: Pipeline Decision Tells Us “Whether It Would’ve Made Much Difference If We’d Elected Hillary Instead.”

I went down to the site of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline protest today with Bill McKibben.  No, I didn’t go to get arrested — though over 100 people did — just to cover the event.  The energy of the crowd was amazing, so to speak.

Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox (Gasland) was there, and  I will post a video of his remarks tomorrow.  McKibben invites all Climate Progress readers to the big final rally in DC at the White House this Saturday.

I interviewed McKibben on the pipeline and among my questions was one about the role of Hillary Clinton.  I did not raise the counterfactual question — which has become popular among some liberals, though not Salon’s Joan Walsh — but McKibben did.

I’ll have more to say on it below the jump, but first here’s the video of the full interview:

I do like counterfactuals, perhaps because reality, at least in DC, is so … well, counter factual.

But there really is no way to know if Hillary Clinton would have been more progressive on climate than Obama.  There are simply too many confounding variables.  First off, she lost for a reason.  She ran a poor campaign at every level, including her messaging.  In particular, she ran as the establishment candidate in a change election.

Now, if you are examining the counterfactual, you have to ask whether she would have continued to run that poor campaign in the general election — indeed,  you have to figure out if you are assuming Obama never ran or merely that he ran a poorer campaign (since, after all, he beat her for a reason or, rather, more than one reason).

In all likelihood, she would have beaten McCain once Wall Street melted down, but probably not so resoundingly since she was inherently a divisive figure — one reason why many progressives didn’t support her in the first place.  That’s particularly true if she kept running the same type of campaign she had run for the nomination.

McCain could never figure out how to run against Obama.  He never decided whether he was running as a maverick (trying to beat Obama on the “change” message) or as the tried-and-true veteran vs. the too-inexperienced upstart.  Had Hillary run as the establishment candidate, McCain might well have positioned himself as the maverick.

On the bright side, had Hillary been the nominee, McCain probably wouldn’t have picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, since that would have been too obvious,  so she never would have become famous.  But then again, that decision also probably hurt him in the end.   Also, he might not have desperately suspended his campaign.  Who knows?   Too many variables.

Now, if Hillary had won but not with as large majorities in the House and Senate, then she probably could not have had a larger stimulus bill and might even have had a smaller one.  Also, health care reform was her signature issue, so it’s even less likely that she would give precedence to climate action than healthcare.

Yes, she might have played the DC game tougher than Obama — heck, my 4-year-old daughter might have negotiated better than Obama — but it still doesn’t change the fact that Republicans in the Senate in particular would have, from day one, been trying to destroy her presidency, much as they did with her husband, much as they did with Barack.  And it wouldn’t change the fact that getting 60 votes for any climate bill would have required a president to make it the priority issue — even above health care reform — from the moment the stimulus bill passed.  And that still might not have worked.

Plus, as McKibben notes, we now do have a pretty strong piece of evidence that Hillary isn’t prepared to take a stand on the climate issue if there is a moderate political cost — or at least the perception of a political cost (among moderates).

So it’s time to move beyond the counterfactual.

You go to war against climate change with the president you’ve got.  We need to figure out how to buck him up — figure out how to deliver a message that a significant part of his constituency are single issue voters on the climate.  And I can’t think of anybody who’s doing better work in that area than McKibben.

32 Responses to McKibben: Pipeline Decision Tells Us “Whether It Would’ve Made Much Difference If We’d Elected Hillary Instead.”

  1. Lollipop says:

    I will be getting arrested on Saturday. If any of the regular folks here will be there too and want chat in person, let me know. I’ll have husband and kids, but we can at least greet each other.

  2. Michael Tucker says:

    I think it would be fascinating to know exactly how much “of his constituency are single issue voters on the climate.” I have a feeling that the numbers are somewhat less than significant.

  3. Andy says:

    Thank you for your service, Lollipop. I was thinking that what we also need is a celebrity to get arrested. Preferably one that’s still respected. That seems to be one of the few things that gets the attention of many sleepy Americans. If it’s on Extra and the national news, we’ve won half the battle. :-)

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    I salute Bill McKibben and every protester there. They are showing commitment and guts, and making the news. (Bill almost got the Cato guy on PBS NewsHour to say “tar sands”, but he caught himself.)

    But the decision on the pipeline tells us little about Obama, and is not nearly as important as a one penny gas tax would be, or a 0.1% tax increase on the rich would be. And those are no easier to get. The struggle is against billionaire destroyers like Murdoch and Kochs, and against the leaders of powerhouses like Exxon and Massey.

    If we want progress, we’ll elect a few more progressives to Congress. That is hard work. It will take years. It will take decades.

    Bill McKibben will keep at it. How do we direct our energies?

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Unfortunately, Mark, you don’t have ‘decades’ or even, probably ‘years’ to elect ‘progressives’ to Congress. Moreover ‘progressives’ are still capitalists, still beholden to elite financial contributions and still bound to sell out as soon as elected. The history of ‘progressives’ like Obama, Blair and Rudd is that once they are in power the suckers who put them there are forgotten and the service to money power takes over. You must get over the delusion that you live in a ‘democracy’. You live in a capitalist plutocracy, as do all the denizens of Western states, with a varyingly effective pantomime of popular consent known as democracy hiding the harsh realities.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    I’m Confused

    I’m a bit confused because the post mentions the challenge of … “figure out how to deliver a message [to Obama] that a significant part of his constituency are single issue voters on the climate” … while most people seem to be satisfied leaving the impression (given the stance that they aren’t willing to take, and the words they aren’t willing to say) that they’ll still vote for Obama no matter what he does regarding Keystone XL.

    In other words, the best way to show Obama that we are deeply serious about the climate is to BE “single-issue voters on the climate”, rather than pretend to be, and to actually make our voting support conditioned on Obama’s Keystone XL decision: i.e., to make sure that Obama knows that we won’t vote for him unless he disapproves of Keystone XL.

    It seems to me that far too many people are trying to figure out how to make Obama feel that we’re truly serious about Keystone XL without actually being TRULY serious about Keystone XL to the point where they would withhold their votes from Obama if he were to approve it. Too many people are saying, “I’m Serious about Keystone XL (but I’ll vote for you, Mr. President, no matter what you decide).” It’s a self-defeating stance. It’s “serious” and not very serious at the same time. It’s about as “serious” as a parent who gives his child candy and lets him stay up late whether or not the child cleans up his room or does his chores.

    What am I missing?



    [JR: I confess I don’t follow this comment. One starts where one can.]

  7. I’m with you Jeff. The only nuance for me is that Keystone XL is a part of Obama climate legacy. So I’m not ready to say this is the only climate action that counts.

    In my mind he could even overcome opening the XL-sized spigot of tar sands by shutting down coal via Clean Air Act and/or putting a serious price on carbon economy wide (including exports). But given Obama’s recent message to little kids that they would need to be the ones to solve the problem, well, I’m not holding out much hope. A future-green but present-enable-carbon policy suite like Obama has put forth so far just doesn’t cut it for me.

  8. Tim says:

    The electoral impotence of living in Texas is, in just one sense, liberating. It don’t have to admit that Obama can take my vote for granted, because there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell (Texas? Oklahoma?) that Texas will go for Obama – and if it does it will be an Obama landslide anyway. So I can vote for the Green party candidate in any case.

    So I can have an effect – I’ll be ignoring all those Obama e-mail’s asking me for money – not this year, pal.

  9. Susan Anderson says:

    Jeff, what you’re missing is the likelihood of electing Perry or whoever else is in the party of proud ignorance is worse than trying to get Obama to recognize that our problems are critical and urgent today, not a decade or so down the line.

    Your uncompromising pursuit of the creators of our Roman circus is admirable, and I tend to agree that advertising bears huge responsibility for our disastrous situation. Unfortunately “here I stand I can do no other” isn’t enough in our current setting.

    We desperately need something to get ordinary people to stop buying the skillful distractions and rationalizations on sale in the marketplace.

    You have a piece of the puzzle, but communication needs to reach outside the small circle of people who can look beyond the price of gas and the current paycheck, dreams of untrammeled wealth, and turning the clock back.

  10. malcreado says:

    Sad part is I dont know that we are much farther ahead with Obama than we would have been with McCain. Sure Obama did some nice stuff in the recovery act but…
    back in 2008 both candidates acknowledged CC as a problem and the Tea Party didn’t exist. Had McCain gotten in, would Climate change still be an issue for both parties? Sure not a big issue with the GOP as they get a ton of cash from FF industry but would it at least get lip service as a real issue?
    I guess that shows how far Obama has failed…

    On another note; gonna be over 100 degrees here tomorrow. I remember fondly when September was the start of fall and not a continuation of a brutal summer…

  11. malcreado says:

    I agree with Tim, it is a mistake to reward failure…

  12. Sasparilla says:

    Good for you Tim, buck them up.

    When the results aren’t going to be close for my house, senate etc. elections I think I’ll do the same thing.

  13. John Tucker says:

    Look at the shale gas fracking report – it ignores climate concerns too, its basically a sales brochure like the state department study:

    The public deserves assurance that the full economic, environmental and energy
    security benefits of shale gas development will be realized without sacrificing public
    health, environmental protection and safety. Nonetheless, accidents and incidents have
    occurred with shale gas development, and uncertainties about impacts need to be
    quantified and clarified. Therefore the Subcommittee has highlighted important steps for
    more thorough information, implementation of best practices that make use of technical
    innovation and field experience, regulatory enhancement, and focused R&D, to ensure
    that shale operations proceed in the safest way possible, with enhanced efficiency and
    minimized adverse impact. If implemented these measures will give the public reason to
    believe that the nation’s considerable shale gas resources are being developed in a way
    that is most beneficial to the nation.
    ( )

    Industry sure likes it:

    Fracking Advisory Panel Makes Final Report

    The report does not recommend any new state or federal requirements for the largely unregulated shale gas industry. ( )

  14. thanes says:

    I should note I went to DC to get arrested Saturday but Irene intervened so I had to come back to work before the civil disobedience could continue.
    But I think it is this- if 1,000 people come and demonstrate the intensity of involvement to get arrested, then those people may well be voting for Obama, but will they sleep on the floor and work 72 hours getting the vote out for Jim, like they did last election?
    I think the point is, in politics intensity counts. The protesters show Obama a large corps of intense volunteers who would be energized to campaign if Obama would meet the promise he offered about global warming. Conversely, they may be dispirited if the administration approves the pipeline.
    I feel it is a good inducement. A number of people, including myself at the non-arresting rally, were wearing Obama campaign material. The promise of intensity is what is being displayed in front of the White House.

  15. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The post below on VT Gov. Shumlin and hurricane Irene (31.8.2011) features a debate between David B Benson, Mulga Mumblebrain, et al on the value of nukes. It provides a fascinating insight into how differently people can assess risk.

    It makes me wonder if there is some historically based hubris that is leading the USA govt. to gamble on the fact that they can beat the laws of physics and chemistry, no matter how late they leave it,– because the USA always wins?

    Anyway, Hilary should think herself lucky she didn’t make it given the outbreak of national domestic violence that is currently battering our first female Prime Minister, who had the temerity to negotiate a very modest little proposal for costing carbon.

    Some of these witches will stop at nothing! ME

  16. Jay Alt says:

    I’ll withhold money and my vote. And tell my local and congressional reps why the Green party now has my interest. And explain to them that without certain actions on their part thatthey are next for the same treatment.

    I’ll ‘support’ Obama’s campaign the same way he ‘supported’ a vote on the Senate Climate Bill. No mention of his name to defend or praise him, no sign in my yard, no effort on my part. Like the president does on Climate, I’ll change the subject and promote someone else.

  17. Mark Shapiro says:

    Mulga’s right: we live in a plutocracy.

    That’s one of the reasons for raising taxes on the rich. It also means we must expose the plutocrats and their methods.

    I suggest that the problem is not Obama but the Murdochs, Kochs, and the rest. Make them known. Call them to account at every turn. The struggle is with them.

  18. John Tucker says:

    Thank you, I left my response in there to it. Sourced of course.

  19. Anne says:

    No one is talking about all the governors of the states that will host the pipeline, except Nebraska. What are their positions on this?

  20. Gail Zawacki says:

    Hey Lollipop, Roger and Susan Shamel of GWEN and I got arrested Wednesday but we’ll be there Saturday too. Pictures from yesterday here!

  21. Mike Roddy says:

    Hillary hired Mark Penn as her campaign advisor- a guy who does PR for oil and cigarette companies. Bill did nothing about climate change during his presidency. Hillary
    supports the tar sands pipeline. Imagining that she would have been an improvement is a desperate dream.

    A bigger issue is why the Democrats won’t get behind someone like Howard Dean instead, and continue to funnel campaign money into candidates who are cuddled up to Wall Street and the oil companies. Answering that question could get real ugly.

  22. David Smith says:

    I am uncomfortable with withdrawing support from the president if he approves the deal. There are at present no alternatives in the next election. So a decision to withhold support is to abandon the process completely which would be idiotic. I for one don’t want to end up right but dead. Jeff, yours is a clear position that is guaranteed to fail. A better position might be to agree to work tirelessly and agressively for the presidents re-election if he rejects the deal and only grudgingly vote for him, the lesser of two evils, if he approves it. This is difficult for us because we would be commiting to become actively involved in the campaign, a time consuming effort.

  23. Leif says:

    Looking good there Gail. Thank you, Leif.

    On a related note and an attempt to expose what I am sure is just an oversight of the Lame Stream Press, there is this:

  24. Jeffrey Davis says:

    An old saw, “Everybody wants to go the Heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

    Everybody wants a greener future, but nobody wants to sacrifice. Well, too few to matter. And no politician wants to be the one to run on sacrifice. (c.f. Walter Mondale’s run against Reagan.)

    But, once again, thank you, protestors. All of you.

  25. Doug says:

    Based on Hillary’s support for the pipeline, it is really hard to imagine Hillary making a bigger difference than Obama. Hillary’s big issue was always healthcare. While Obama would be foolish to let this project go forward, he is feeling a lot pressure from all sides. Should Obama do the right thing and reject the pipeline, environmentalists have to give him cover because oil companies will be angry and speculators will make bigger bets on oil. The oil companies may respond to a rejection by raising gas prices. Regardless of what Obama’s decision is, being in this position is the price environmentalists are paying for not showing up to last year’s Congressional elections. It will always be difficult to pass a strong climate bill. But, we can make sure the EPA is a strong agency capable of enforcing the laws currently on the books. Ending the Bush Tax Cuts would also help because it will close half the budget deficit and protect agencies like the EPA from budget cuts. Also, the movement is changing college campuses, which is huge because the students they graduate take the things they implemented on campus into the real world.

  26. Chris Winter says:

    So far, 843 people have been arrested according to tarsandsaction. I think thanes raises an important point: if 1,000 people will travel to DC to get arrested over a pipeline, how many would vote against the candidate that supported the pipeline? (Add in the fact that the pipeline is part of a bigger problem.)

    As I understand it, the rule of thumb is that for every person who contacts his or her senator or representative with an opinion on an issue, 100 people back home feel the same. The multiplier has to be higher for demonstrators.

  27. Chris Winter says:

    OT — It seems the bold tag is not working for me, although STRONG works fine. Is this by design?

  28. I agree. I have already said that I voted for Obama in 2008, but I will never vote for him again if he approves this pipeline. I think we need more people to say the same.

  29. jcwinnie says:

    I don’t understand… Why does the cartoon show Hilary pensive. In reality, wouldn’t she slap the little girl out of the way to speed up destruction of life on the planet as we know it?

  30. Tom Gray says:

    Nice piece overall. As a longtime observer of and participant in politics, though, I must say that no serious woman candidate for President in the USA could possibly run as “the establishment candidate.” By virtue of her gender, she inherently represents a major change in the establishment. Nor could she embrace anti-establishment positions and prevail, for the same reason.–Tom Gray, Wind Energy Communications Consultant

  31. J. Bruni says:

    @Mulga: I liked your description of US “democracy” a lot. Really good description.