Are you tired of partisan discord? I am. Our two great political parties just bicker, bicker, bicker, and it takes all the joy out of watching Wolf Blitzer’s beard.
Oh for the sight of the Gipper and Tip O’Neill laughing together! It makes a person nostalgic. If only Obama would deign to reach out like Reagan did! The Republicans who sound this grievance are actually quite right to be sad about it, because back in those halcyon days, whenever Ronnie wanted to raise taxes, all he had to do was invite good ol’ Tip to the White House for a chinwag, a beer, and maybe a complementary astrological reading from Nancy, and the Speaker would get busy legislating.
Is the aisle a mile wide? There must be something they can agree on, aside from the urgent patriotic importance of pinning small American flags to one’s lapel and “free trade.”
Fortunately, there is.
Yes, there is an issue that unites our Republicans and Democrats, elected and appointed alike, that bridges the partisan chasm, that fuels common ground in Washington and in state capitals across our fair land, that brings them together to break bread at the communal trough. It’s hiding in the crevices of shale rock from Marcellus to Monterey, just waiting for someone to show up with the know-how, the tools, and exemptions from most every environmental regulation.
What could be more natural than a bunch of gasbags standing united for natural gas?
The signs are everywhere. Just take the delighted responses to Obama’s sales pitch for his “All of the Above” energy policy in his 2012 State of the Union address:
“We welcome President Obama’s remarks in support of the safe and responsible development of natural gas and the opportunities it presents to create American jobs and advance our nation’s environment, economy and energy security.”
“We are pleased by President Obama’s strong support for America’s foundation fuel, and hope that he will … expand the use of natural gas, so that every American and our nation as a whole can benefit from this clean, abundant, domestic resource.”
“I applaud President Obama for highlighting natural gas and for calling on Congress to better promote its use.”[i]
There you have it, straight from the mouths of Regina Hopper of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Dave McCurdy of the American Gas Association, and billionaire T. Boone Pickens … whoops! Those aren’t elected Republicans or Democrats! I shouldn’t be quoting people who don’t play a role in shaping our nation’s policies how we heat our homes (and planet). Sorry about that.
How to tell that there’s unity here? Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas on steroids, yet the Democrats seem quite content to share the scientific sandbox on this issue with the GOP, a party whose leaders’ scientific literacy (or intellectual integrity) peaked back when the word “recess” still involved sandboxes.
Perhaps I’m being rude. Maybe the pols are just taking the industry’s data at face value, because, hey, industry knows best, right? Besides, you really can’t trust those independent scientists who do things like actually measure methane emissions. Their readings are so high!
Come to think of it, “polarized” sounds a lot like “polar ice.” Discuss.
Sure, there’s still partisan bickering over natural gas, but it’s mostly a smokescreen. Congressional Democrats applaud President Obama’s rush to get new gas export facilities built; Republicans say he isn’t rushing fast enough. Dems cheer Obama for pushing fracking on Europe; the GOP says he isn’t pushing hard enough. And something about Vladimir Putin.
This isn’t the only unifying issue (though it is the only one with a term as fracktastic as “fracking”), but it is a window into real politics—or as the international policy jet-set likes to call it, realpolitik, demonstrating their mastery of exotic misspellings of English terms.
Here’s the playbook: Squabble in public, then head into your pleasantly air-conditioned office for a meeting with the relevant industry lobbyists. You’re delighted to see them because they’re your buddies and former colleagues, and they just might make a campaign donation.[ii] Together, you strategize; together, you line up the votes. Shake some hands, seal some deals. Celebrate over gift-ban-avoiding canapés and perhaps a nice glass of pinot—and then run out to the nearest news camera and scream that the other party isn’t rushing and pushing enough. Repeat.
It’s all part of the show, keeping fools like me entertained, letting us continue to believe that our two parties actually represent the various publics rather than handfuls of industries, speculators, and robber barons. Yeah, I know… just writing that was depressing—look over there, stem cells in a petri dish! (Whew, a distraction.)
So don’t fret, the partisan divide isn’t quite as wide as we thought it was. Maybe that’s why they call natural gas a bridge fuel.
[i] The White House proudly posted the first two bits of industry adulation on its website. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/25/statements-president-s-state-union-address
Pickens: http://www.pickensplan.com/news/2012/01/25/t-boone-pickens-statement-on-president-obama%E2%80%99s-state-of-the-union-address/ You can probably guess the nickname he earned when he paid for a referendum to be put on the California ballot a few years ago to force the state to buy him a whole new fleet of compressed natural gas-powered trucks a few years ago: Boonedoggle.
As to “All of the Above,” yep, industry hacks came up with that. http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/high/blog/which-part-of-obamas-state-of-the-union-speec/blog/48080/ Every school kid knows that (d) all of the above is what you mark on a test when you don’t know the answer.
[ii] Some meaningless figures: Total oil and gas industry campaign donations in 2012, $73,330,448. Total oil and gas industry lobbying expenditures in 2013, $144,878,531. That’s what they reported, so, as with the industry’s data on greenhouse gas emissions, the real numbers are probably higher, unless they were exaggerating to show off.
Jeremiah Goulka is a writer based in Washington, DC. Before he couldn’t stand it any longer, he worked at two federal agencies and a prominent think-tank. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website www.jeremiahgoulka.com.