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.