October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Lindsay Graham and the Climate Football

I want to believe that Lindsay Graham, per his recent op-ed, is going to come through on supporting the Kerry-Boxer climate bill in the Senate. Indeed, Joe Romm and David Roberts, both of whom no one could accuse of being naïve about politics, are hailing Graham's stance as an important step in moving climate legislation forward, and could potentially net as many as six other Republican votes. That could be enough to bring in moderate Democrats from farm and coal states leery about voting for Kerry-Boxer as well.

Even so, I can't shake the fear that Graham is going to pull the football away at the last minute. Like John McCain, Graham is a conservative with a reputation for heterodoxy that is vastly out of step with his actual voting record. Perhaps the definitive profile of Graham is this 2005 Washington Monthly article by Geoff Earle, which argued that, during the height of the George W. Bush era, Graham often strayed from the Republican Party line on certain high-profile issues, but in a way that ultimately served the purposes of the Bush administration and the GOP:
Consider his role in the Abu Ghraib hearings. With his tough questioning of Rumsfeld, Graham earned a rare Washington commodity: credibility. In the end, however, he put that credibility to use in bolstering the position of the secretary of defense. On "Meet the Press," Graham pointedly refused to say Rumsfeld should step down, a position he has maintained ever since. During those crucial early days, Rumsfeld's ability to maintain unified GOP support in the Senate was essential to his political survival. Had Graham flipped, the White House's continued loyalty to Rumsfeld would have been made far more difficult, if not impossible. Graham's even-handed posture "did a lot to end a period that was corrosive and dangerous for the administration," says Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).
This was certainly the case in 2006, during the fight over the Military Commissions Act. Graham, along with McCain and John Warner, were the lead negotiators with the Bush administration over the bill -- ostensibly to prevent it from giving the President carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with detainees in Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. In the end, however, Graham and company gave the administration the bulk of what it desired, then helped defeat Democratic amendments that would have prohibited torture, upheld habeas corpus, and provided other protections. Since then, Graham's record in the minority has been indistinguishable from that of his fellow Republicans, up to and including his conduct during the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings.

Now, It's certainly possible that Graham has seen the light on climate change and will become a support of climate legislation, not only in words, but deeds. Romm quotes an E&E News article which indicates that he has, and he will -- the only sticking point he, and other potential Republican votes, seem to have with Kerry-Boxer is increased support for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. If that's the case, it'd be a small price to pay for ensuring that the framework for a clean energy economy gets up and running. (Let's also note here that Lisa Murkowski of Alaska now also appears to be on board with Kerry-Boxer, so Graham's support might actually be paying off.)

I'm still skeptical, however, for the reasons stated above. But there shouldn't be any reason why conservative political philosophy, as I understand it, would prevent Graham, et al from taking action on climate change. Certainly right-wing politicians in other countries, Europe in particular, see no contradiction between belief in small government and preventing the devastation of the Earth's climate. Only the ignorance and moral cowardice that characterizes much of the American right today prevents the Republican Party from being responsible partners in addressing perhaps the most important issue of our time. Indeed, already the conservative movement is trying to browbeat Graham into submission; hopefully, they won't succeed.

This post was written as part of Blog Action Day, and this year's topic is climate change; though honestly, if hadn't told you that, would you have noticed?

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