I was in shock (but not awe) watching President Bush announce on TV, during the first wave of large peace demonstrations, that we were going to war in Iraq despite all the opposition
but that the protests in the streets demonstrated the kind of "freedom" that America stands for. It appears to be lost on Mr. Bush that free speech is not a hollow end in itself. The demands of citizens in a democracy should be heeded by their leaders, not arrogantly dismissed. A recent letter-writer to Time magazine put Bush in perspective for me, saying: "
Smirking smugness and evangelical righteousness are not qualities that inspire thinking people."
But even though many things get lost on Mr. Bush, I think he understands the issues here. The Bush Republicans—from closet Klansman Trent Lott all the way up to former oilman Bush himself—are masters of charade. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks only expressed the honest sentiments of thinking Americans when she commented to Londoners that the group was "ashamed" of Mr. Bush. In my view they need not have apologized for the remark to appease redneck disc jockeys. I, too, am embarrassed to call Bush my leader, as I watch him trot from town to town in blue jeans and hardhat, communing with the common man, reading to kids, blowing out octogenarian birthday candles—and then returning home to pursue policies that completely undermine working families, children’s literacy and elder care.
And the environment is part of the big lie, too. The Bush Republicans are master spin practitioners, fooling most of the people most of the time with public talk about a clean environment completely contradicted by efforts to undermine virtually every environmental protection. Doesn’t it make you wonder if the last 100 years of eco-advocacy—and the billions of dollars pumped into it—have been for naught, when all it takes is for one administration to get into power and undo it all?
It’s almost entirely about money, of course, from the oil revenues that drive foreign policy, to the dollars pumped, largely by the beneficiaries of those revenues, into election campaigns. But a new strategy is emerging in the environmental movement that hopes to halt the juggernaut. While public financing of elections is the only way we"ll ever even the electoral playing field and achieve honest leadership, it’s a long way off. And it would be unproductive and naéve to refuse campaign contributions unilaterally, only to allow the environment and other progressive ideals to completely fall off the radar.
What could be a better cliché to resurrect for the next election than "throw the bums out?" As long as campaign finance continues to be stymied, primarily by the GOP, the environmental movement needs to play the money game. Green funders, from humble $10 donors to six and seven-figure grant-givers, can make a difference in the upcoming cycle by directing contributions—even without a tax deduction (do we really care about that anyway?)—to pro-environmental candidates, green PACs and the groups that work in those arenas. Campaign finance "disarmament" will have to wait, unless we want four more years of the most cynical, mean spirited, anti-environmental administration in U.S. history.