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“Keystone, Patriotism, And The White Working Class”: That Moment In Which Good Policy And Good Rhetoric Meet

Some time in the next two weeks, President Barack Obama is expected to veto a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The U.S. House passed a measure last week. A similar bill passed the U.S. Senate the week before. Republicans, and even some Democrats, are calling it the “Keystone jobs bill.”

Activists hope Obama will veto the bill out of concern for an already overheated planet — the refining and consumption of Canadian tar-sands oil results in double the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. But that rationale is unlikely. The president is probably going to argue that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority. In crossing an international boundary, the pipeline is executive-branch turf.

But I wonder if this might be an opportunity, at least a rhetorical opportunity best understood in a somewhat different context. That context is the Democratic Party’s dismal performance among white working-class voters, who generally believe the Republican Party represents their interests even though it doesn’t.

Before I continue, please allow me to disclaim that when it comes to the white working class, I have some authority. My dad long-hauled steel. My mom raised four children in a comfortable trailer home while Dad was on the road. They certainly don’t approve of everything the government does — their anti-military views are exceptional — but right or wrong, America is theirs. And thanks to their rearing, America is mine, too.

To say my parents were conflicted over the role of the federal government in their lives is an understatement, but to say they wanted it out of their lives, as Republicans repeatedly claim on their behalf, is a gross overstatement. There’s nothing wrong with government as long as it serves the people whose biggest asset is their labor, which in their world means everyone not born into so much wealth that they don’t need to work.

Why does the white working class even matter to Democrats? Doesn’t the demographic tide favor them? Yes, but as Andrew Levison has argued, the Democrats still need white working-class voters. Without them, the party will scarcely attain the majoritarian momentum it needs to advance a truly progressive agenda. To be blunt, without them, demographics for the Democratic Party isn’t destiny. It’s doom.

The question is how to reach them. Democratic strategists cyclically scratch their heads in disbelief at white working-class voters acting in contrast to their interests. But such behavior shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, voting is the result of emotion at least as much as it is the result of tactical decision making. And this is where I think the president’s expected veto of the Keystone bill is connected to the white working class. If there’s one thing white working-class voters respond to, it is emotional appeals to their deep and abiding sense of patriotism (the Republicans long ago mastered the art of such appeals). But Obama has an opportunity to shift the rhetorical landscape in favor of the Democrats by vetoing the Keystone bill in the name of country.

I’m not just favoring good rhetoric over good policy: This is a moment in which good policy and good rhetoric meet.

First, the pipeline isn’t going to help many Americans. Indeed, the Republicans never let a moment go by without reminding us that Obama’s own Department of State estimates that thousands of jobs will emerge from the $8 billion construction of the pipeline. But a majority of those jobs are seasonal. Once the project is completed, about 35 jobs will endure, according to the very same government estimate.

Second, the pipeline is going to help many Canadians. The Keystone is one of five proposed pipelines needed to profit from billions being invested in the extraction of tar-sands crude. This handful of pipelines tops the list of Canada’s national priorities. According to Mark Dowie, in The Washington Spectator, if even one of the pipelines is stymied, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s dream of creating a petro-state will die. So pressure is mounting. Harper, Canada’s oil companies, and their very wealthy investors around the world want to see the Keystone built. In the United States, it will create a flurry of temporary activity, but the long-term rewards will be entirely enjoyed by Canadians.

That matters to white working-class voters. That’s something that can’t be squared with Republican claims that Keystone is simply a jobs bill.

All right. Let’s accept the premise — Keystone is a jobs bill. If so, it’s bad one. As I said, lots of temporary jobs, a few permanent jobs and nothing left for the greater good. All future dividends from billions presently invested will flow north of the border. Indeed, it’s Americans who will suffer detriment in the event of a leak. (Leaks are rare, but when they happen, they are catastrophic to communities, property and natural resources.) A better jobs plan can be found in the president’s fiscal year budget. It calls for federal expenditures on the construction and upkeep of the country’s (literally) crumbling infrastructure. How does Obama hope to pay for all these roads, bridges, tunnels and waterways? By levying a tax on the offshore accounts of the very wealthy.

The president wants to tax the money of a very small minority of Americans who don’t want to pay U.S. taxes. He wants to raise revenues to fund the construction, and reconstruction, of the country’s infrastructure. If expenditures reach as high as $1 trillion, as Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has proposed, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of seasonal and permanent jobs, with something to show for all the effort—a lasting investment. (Sanders’ proposal would also probably include a hike in the federal gas tax, which hasn’t gone up since the mid-1990s.) Conversely, the Republicans blindly oppose all tax increases, even on those without enough sense of patriotism to want to pay their due in taxes while everyone else does.

If that appears to be the making of a wedge issue, that’s because it is, and the Democrats need to exploit it. The Keystone reveals a rift between rich Americans who don’t pay taxes and working-class Americans who do; between rich Americans who don’t want to rebuild America, for Americans, and working-class Americans who do.

The bottom line: Courting white working-class voters will take more than appealing to their economic interests. It isn’t enough to do the right thing, and this is where I part ways with others on this subject. I tend to believe the Democrats don’t do enough to drive a wedge between white working-class voters and the Republican Party elites who claim to represent them. The GOP’s hold on the working-class imagination is strong, thanks to years and years of race baiting and fearmongering. So when the rare opportunity arises in which Democrats can illuminate the clear contrasts between the interests of the very, very rich and everyone else, it shouldn’t be wasted.


By: John Stoehr, Managing Editor of The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, February 17, 2015

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Keystone XL, Patriotism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Time To Veto”: Exercising Authority Under The Constitution In Precisely The Way Our Founders Intended

President Obama is poised to reject legislation meant to force the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, in what would be his third veto since taking office six years ago.

Pipeline proponents, naturally, are howling.

Obama, though, is exercising his veto authority under the Constitution in precisely the way our founders intended: as a check on Congressional overreach at odds with the good of the country.

The president is the only public official elected to represent all the American people. That confers upon the president, uniquely, an obligation to act on behalf of the entire country, not simply a collection of congressional districts or states, in a way that reflects the common will and advances the national interest.

The Constitution enshrines the presidential veto as a vital tool for fulfilling that role, and leaders throughout our history have found it essential. Presidents stretching back to George Washington have used the veto 2,563 times to reject legislation passed by both houses of Congress.

Ronald Reagan used his veto power 78 times — the most of any president in modern times. Obama, at the other end of the scale, has vetoed just two bills so far — fewer than any other president in 160 years.

Rarely is the veto more clearly in order as now.

Under long-established procedure, the question of whether to approve a project like a pipeline that would cross a U.S. border hangs on a single criteria: is the project in the national interest? It is the president’s job — and properly so — to make that determination.

In assessing whether the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline meets the criteria, Obama has put the U.S. State Department in the lead, with expertise added from an array of other government agencies that oversee commerce, transportation, energy, environment and other important areas central to the national interest.

The Republican-led House gave final congressional approval today to a bill meant to force approval of the tar sands pipeline in a way that would usurp presidential authority, short-circuit the deliberative process of informed evaluation already underway and supersede the president’s obligation to determine whether the project is good for the country.

Those are three good reasons to veto the bill.

There is, though, one more, and it goes to the heart of our system of checks and balances.

The tar sands pipeline is not a project designed to help this country. It is a plan to pipe some of the dirtiest oil on the planet — tar sands crude mined from Canada’s boreal forest using some of the most destructive industrial practices ever devised — through the breadbasket of America to Gulf coast refineries where most of the fuel will be shipped overseas.

It would create 35 permanent American jobs, according to the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline. And the tar sands crude would generate 17 percent more of the carbon pollution that is driving climate change than conventional crude oil produces.

It would put our heartland at grave and needless risk of the kind of pipeline accidents we’ve seen nearly 6,000 times over just the past two decades. It would cross more than 1,000 rivers, streams and other waterways and pass within a mile of some 3,000 underground wells that supply irrigation and drinking water to communities and farms across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. And it would deepen our addiction to the fossil fuels of the past when we need to be investing in the clean energy options of the future.

That is not a project that serves our national interest. It is, instead, a project that’s about big profits for big oil, big payoffs for industry allies on Capitol Hill and big pollution for the rest of us.

If that’s what the Republican leadership in Congress wants to drop on the president’s desk, here’s what’s going to happen. The president is going to do what other presidents going back to George Washington have done more than 2,500 times: stand up for what’s best for all Americans, and veto this terrible bill.


By: Rhea Suh, The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Keystone XL, Presidential Veto | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Pipeline To Nowhere”: A Monument To Wasting Colossal Sums Of Money On Dirty-Energy Infrastructure

When Maria van der Hoeven summed up the 20-year outlook for global energy investment in London last year, she identified a couple of daunting challenges.

The amount of money required by 2035 is a staggering $48 trillion, the International Energy Agency chief and former Dutch economy minister said. And it’s not clear how many of those trillions of dollars will power climate-friendly options.

“Will policymakers succeed in steering investment towards a cleaner, more secure energy system — or are we locking in technologies and patterns of consumption that store up trouble for the future?” she asked.

There’s no better example of what van der Hoeven meant by “storing up trouble for the future” than the Keystone XL pipeline.

After years of being flustered by President Barack Obama’s procrastination, the pipeline’s conservative backers in Congress are trying to force him to green-light this conduit for some of the world’s dirtiest, most expensive, and most dangerous oil.

The House recently voted in favor of building the 1,200-mile pipeline for the 10th time. The Senate is poised to approve it too. Although dozens of Democrats are siding with Republicans in favor of this boondoggle, those lawmakers lack the votes, so far, to override the veto Obama has threatened.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and a leading Keystone XL proponent, has turned into a broken record touting what he calls “vital energy infrastructure legislation.”

Despite their similar names and obsession with all things energy, Hoeven and van der Hoeven are polar opposites. She’s a leading player in the effort to wean the world off its dependence on oil, gas, and coal. He’s a “drill, baby, drill” type.

There are many good arguments against the $8 billion pipeline on environmental and labor grounds. People like founder Bill McKibben and groups like Media Matters need no help explaining them.

Here’s another reason why the pipeline shouldn’t be built: It’s a waste of money.

First, plunging oil prices matter. A lot. They’ve sunk below $47 a barrel, losing more than half their value since last June. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi declared a few weeks ago that he doesn’t care whether oil goes as low as $20 a barrel, a 16-year low. It just might.

By some estimates, a barrel of oil must fetch at least $95 for profits to be extracted from Canada’s tar sands. It’s impossible to say when prices will rebound to that level or if companies will give up on that oil patch, leaving the Keystone XL without much (if any) heavy crude to move.

Ultimately, there could be no oil to haul from Alberta to Louisiana to be refined — or not, if the U.S. scraps its ban on exporting crude — and then shipped to, say, China.

More importantly, tar sands oil production may stop within a few years even if it does prove profitable. You see, global climate talks are heading in a direction that’s likely to result in countries and companies leaving large amounts of oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

A new study published in the journal Nature spelled out where and what kind of fossil fuels would need to be left unexploited. Its authors predict that virtually all Canadian tar sands oil production will stop by 2020.

If it’s built by then, there’d be nothing for the Keystone XL to transport. As a pipeline to nowhere, it would become a monument to wasting colossal sums of money on dirty-energy infrastructure.

John Hoeven should listen to Maria van der Hoeven. If he did, he’d realize the benefits of losing this political battle.


By: Emily Schwartz Greco, Columnist and Managing Editor of OtherWords; The National Memo, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Climate Change, Keystone XL | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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