Memo to Tom Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit down, and let's have a serious talk about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and climate change.
First, we have something in common. I've served on a chamber of commerce board of directors. I can see the world the way that hard-working business people trying to make a living see the world. When they get upset at obtuse government actions, they often have a valid case. So, it's OK to speak up forcefully when you think the government needs to make a course correction that takes business needs more carefully into account. However, there's a right way to defend your interests and a wrong way.
I'll tell you a story. The big issue for the local chamber of commerce on which I served was a main street improvement project in the central business district. The chamber hasn't forgotten the cack-handed way that the city handled the project's first phase. City officials didn't work proactively with the businesses most affected by the project and dismissed suggestions for design changes. Instead, the city bulled ahead, with the unfortunate result that many merchants lost their shirts.
There was a lot of bad blood in the community about that street project. When it came time to plan the second phase, new leadership at the city signaled that it was prepared to talk turkey with the merchants. Instead of sulking about bygones or flinging rhetorical bombs, chamber leaders signaled back that they were prepared to deal in good faith. They got into the game and negotiated street project design changes that better served their needs. Instead of marginalizing itself, the chamber was a player, and businesses and the community were better off for it.
There's a lesson there, Tom. Tell the feds what you want, stand up for business interests, but be smart about it. Don't do foolish, self-destructive stuff.
Like demand a Scopes monkey trial on climate science. Dumb. Aren't you glad you backed off that idea? The media wise guys would have had a field day. They would have painted you as the rube in Inherit the Wind, while Barack Obama's scientists would have been cast as Spencer Tracy at his most heroic, playing Clarence Darrow, Father Flanagan, Thomas Edison, and the judge at Nuremberg, all at once. You would have lost.
Next, you said that executives who took their companies out of the U.S. chamber succumbed to an "orchestrated pressure campaign" masterminded by conspiratorial greens. Dumb again. High-powered utility CEOs who run nuclear reactors don't take orders from opinionated enviros. That crack was an undeserved insult to the executives and an unmerited compliment for the environmentalists.
Then, after Apple pressed Option-Shift-Escape from its chamber membership, you lectured Steve Jobs about pushing the envelope on technology. Which is sort of like telling Aretha Franklin that she needs to extend her range. Dumb yet again.
Tom, here's the bottom line. Learn from a local chamber of commerce out here in the country's upper left corner that, while you may not be able to fight city hall, you can do deals with city hall, especially when city hall offers a seat at the table. Lose the attitude, get into the game, and work out a climate deal with the feds. The chamber will be better off and so will our country.
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