Monday, November 19, 2007

Grist Presidential Forum

I think that I learned more from the reactions to the forum than I learned from the candidate's actual comments. It is interesting compare Dave Robert's comments about the three candidates (Kucinich, Clinton, Edwards) to Cathleen Decker's reporting in the LA Times. I will add my own commentary.

To begin with, most media have not yet learned how to discuss Global Warming in terms of the pre-defined narrative of the election campaign. It does not fit neatly into any of the predefined narratives of the campaign, where the general tendency is to treat it like a sporting event with your play by play announcer telling you who is ahead and describing every detail while the color commentator tries to explain what it all means about who will in a couple of months. Treating global warming in that context has not worked to raise public attention, or even candidate attention, as an election issue. CNN's coverage of this event focuses on the issue of why this issue appears to have little traction with the public and quotes Roberts to good effect.

We can easily understand the narrative used by both Roberts and Decker just by looking at their headlines. Roberts is writing for Grist readers, an audience that already believes in the seriousness of Global Warming. He was part of the panel that asked questions and hardly unbiased about the results. His blog entry today was headed "More light, less heat". He is going to explain the candidates and evaluate their answers. Decker is going to follow the campaign narrative. "Democratic candidates buff green credentials" and all it becomes is a tactic to win the vote of a particular interest group.

The Candidates:
Regarding Dennis Kucinich, Roberts finds him to be "relatively light on specifics." In fact, most of Roberts's comments seem to belittle Kucinich as not really understanding what it takes to make all of this work.
The big question about all this, of course, is how a President Kucinich could get such a radical agenda past Congress. His only answer was that he would talk over their heads, directly to the people, and get them so riled that they would, I guess, drag Congress along. I'm not sure where he sees the evidence for this enormous untapped vein of radical progressivism among the American populace, but he seems convinced.
This is rather an important point for Greens to consider. There are many Green Party members who would love for Kucinich to change parties and for all the very reason that Roberts disparages him: the Kucinich appeals to the populist idea that you can make a difference from the bottom up. That does not sit well with power players, especially those who reside on "K" Street.

The LA Times story summarized Kucinich without the overriding commentary.
First came Kucinich, the Ohio congressman and presidential longshot, who touted his modest-size house, efficient car and vegan diet as indicators of his personal parsimoniousness and vowed to guarantee an annual income to untold numbers of Americans.
Both sets of comments made more of Kucinich proposing a "guaranteed annual income" than anything else. Decker seems to like the word play also and "personal parsimoniousness" while accurate turns this into an elitist position, subtly undercutting his point.

Roberts makes two points about Clinton. First, that she has "gravitas" and "is always the most prepared," especially on policy issues. The second is that that sh was waring people that they don't have the broad public support they need.
One of the sobering messages she delivered is that when she mentions energy independence, crowds go nuts. When she mentions global warming, there's silence. "The public isn't there yet." This means, for one thing, that greens need to do a lot more to carry the message out.
Decker repeats the story of Clinton evasiveness and triangulation, easily understood because the media has repeated every mention of this from Obama and Edwards.
Next came Clinton, the New York senator, who offered a stern argument for pragmatism, barked down a heckler and warned the audience that global warming legislation pending in the Senate would be too incremental for their taste -- even as she refused to say whether she would back it.
It tells us little about what Clinton was really trying to do and a lot about how the public perception of this issue really in influenced by the media. I think that the public deserves better from the LA Times.

In discussing Edwards, both Decker and Roberts have the same focus, but continue their different narratives. According to Decker, it was about hammering Hillary.
Last came Edwards, the former senator and former vice presidential nominee, who railed against corruption in government and challenged candidates to "put political calculation aside and actually stand up with a little backbone for what's right." He didn't mention Clinton by name, nor did he need to.
As with all three, Roberts measures a candidate by how easily they moved to becoming specific on given policy points. This was his overall summary of Edwards.
My sense during the Q&A is that while Edwards' top-line proposals are immensely appealing -- efficiency, green jobs, fighting poverty, etc. -- he's either unwilling or unable to go much deeper. In response to specific questions, he would always go lateral, covering broad swathes of ground while staying light on specifics.
Green Party Action:
The Green Party needs to find an effective way to deal with Global Warming as a local issue. We say that we believe in grassroots organizing. If we were really effective at harnessing the grassroots energy that may be there, we could have a major influence. Roberts and all of the other Global Warming pundits are going to focus on the inside the beltway, presidential election, federal governmental policy implications because those are the buttons you are supposed to push to have the largest effect.

The Green Party needs to start pushing local buttons, getting people involved in making those fundamental changes right now in their own communities. Were we to do so, those who have decided to act now would surely make this function in their personal political calculus.


Lisa said...

Alex Walker made a good stab at bringing it local in his reply on the LA Times Emerald City blog:

here is the tinyurl since the long ones often get cut off/line break weird:

Wes said...

Lisa, I agree that Alex turned the politics into a local issue. But, more than that, we need to takes issues like the green job that Alex talks about, the Architecture 2030 challenge that I talk about, and start using them as the focus for local organizing by Green Party locals all over this state. When that happens, this party will start to grow.