It didn't take long before all-or-nothing ideologues on the left and on the right started lobbing rhetorical bombs at Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham for daring to suggest in their joint New York Times op-ed that lawmakers from both parties should work together to pass climate and energy legislation.
On the left, Kerry has been pilloried for suggesting that nuclear power and carbon-sequestered coal ought to have a seat at the table in planning a low-carbon energy system for a $14 trillion economy with an immense energy appetite. Kerry's critics on the left demand a simon-pure climate bill that force-marches the U.S. to an economy that runs entirely on renewable energy.
A dramatic boost in renewable energy is necessary, but we won't get there with a my-way-or-the-highway legislative strategy. In the unyielding world inhabited by what Seattle political journalist Joel Connelly calls the "everybody-is-a-sellout-but-us" wing of the political left, however, simon-pure is the only acceptable outcome. If that wing succeeds in blocking any legislation that is not to its liking, there will be no carbon cap, no price on greenhouse gas emissions, and another goose egg for the U.S. in Copenhagen.
Which Kerry knows. There is much else on Kerry's mind. Kerry knows that nuclear energy is expensive and that carbon sequestration on the huge scale necessary to take a significant bite out of emissions is not a sure thing. Kerry also knows, however, that keeping the climate system out of the red zone means that no reasonable option can be left off the table. Knowing all that, Kerry also can count to 60, the Babylonian magic number that must be achieved in the Senate to pass anything controversial in the hyper-partisan world of today's D.C.
On the right, Graham has been pilloried by know-nothings who have turned scientific illiteracy into a political movement. Lord Rush, the bloviator-in-chief, calls Graham a RINO, the pejorative term for independent-minded Republicans among dittoheads who fortify themselves daily with Limbaugh dogma dipped in Kool-aid.
Here is what Graham knows. He knows that the climate is changing, having seen the impacts for himself in the high Arctic. Graham knows that a changing climate will increase the odds of consequences that put the nation's security at risk, as generals and admirals with distinguished resumes have pointed out. Graham also knows that cutting back oil dependence will not only cut back carbon pollution, but stanch the flow of dollars that enrich creepy petro-regimes that wish America ill. Knowing all that, Graham also can count to 60. As he told frothing critics in his home state, they won't get the nuclear power plants that they want with 40 votes.
William F. Buckley said a few years ago that "conservatism implies a certain submission to reality." That goes for progressivism also. All-or-nothing demands rarely achieve the former and usually result in the latter.
Graham and Kerry have put partisan allegiances aside and chalked out rough outlines for a climate and energy deal that has a shot at getting to 60. Their collaboration has improved the odds that the U.S. will finally face up to climate change and the panoply of security, economic, and environmental dangers that follow in its wake.
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