The Game of Politics

Perhaps like me you have been besieged by requests for funds from Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana who will have to engage in a runoff election because the Senate race in her state was too close to call earlier this month. Initially I was sympathetic with her requests, because prior to November 4th it was not clear who would control the Senate for the next two years and I had been told repeatedly that the apocalypse would be upon us should the Democrats lose their majority in the Senate. I hoped the elections would be close, but the Republicans opened their massive corporate campaign chests (thanks to the Supreme Court who gave them the key) and took out gold by the buckets-full to assure the Republican Party sufficient victories in what has become a political farce of monumental proportions. In any event, I later read that Landrieu was planning to introduce a bill in the Senate to promote the Keystone XL Pipeline and I gagged. I was confused: a Democratic Senator, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, initiating a movement to support a project that every environmentalist worth his or her salt has opposed? But then it occurred to me: Landrieu is playing a political game. Of course.

The idea, obviously, is to win enough votes from the citizens of Louisiana to allow her to maintain her Senate seat: the end justifies the means (right out of Machiavelli’s Prince).  She seems determined to entice a few hundred apathetic voters away from their television sets or simply draw some of the independent voters her way since the pipeline project promises jobs to her state (now where have I heard that one before??). The problem is that she may lose many of the Democratic votes she had won in early November — especially if the voters realize that she is playing a game, and a dangerous game at that.

The game is dangerous because it could cost her the election in the end, as noted. It is also dangerous because the pipeline is predicted by those in the know to place the country at risk of an environmental disaster. But while a great many voters pay lip service to a concern for the environment, in the final analysis it doesn’t matter as much as the issue of the economy. And as long as people buy into the false dichotomy — either jobs or the environment — then jobs will win out among the majority of folks who can’t see beyond the tips of their noses. So many Americans are still blind to the fact that some problems cannot be solved and that at some point the damage we are doing to the environment will be irreversible, at which point the question of jobs will be moot. Some experts have said the Keystone project is the tipping point when it comes to protecting the environment. We shall see because despite the fact that when, as promised, Landrieu introduced the bill in the Senate recently it failed to pass by one vote, nonetheless the Republicans are confident that when they gain control of the Senate and House next year this bill, or one like it, will pass with flying colors. Then it is simply a question of whether the President will have the courage to veto the bill — and whether his veto can be overridden.

Despite the fact that he has both hands now tied firmly behind him, President Obama has vowed in his final two years in office to fight the battle of climate control, to become known as the environment president. This would be preferable to leaving office having a reputation of being a pleasant, glib, but totally ineffectual president with one of the lowest popularity ratings ever. Presumably this means Obama will try to thwart any bill coming out of the Congress that promotes the environmentally dangerous Keystone XL Pipeline. We shall see, Thus far he has not shown himself to be a man of either courage or principle, which has been very disappointing. But he does have two years left to at least make his presence felt, because he is right: the environment, protection of our planet, is a major concern, if not the major concern, and should always trump any question of jobs — especially when environmentally safe, renewable energies have shown themselves capable of generating thousands of jobs and thereby proving the falsity of the dichotomy mentioned above — jobs or the environment. We can have both.

But in the end, politics is not a game at all and Landrieu’s tactic is doubly disappointing. It shows that she will risk endangering the planet in order to curry votes and that she is not a woman of principle; she is just another politician. Some experts predict her tactic will backfire and that she will lose out to Bill Cassidy, her Republican opponent. We shall see. Indeed, we shall see a great many things in the coming years. Hold onto your hats!