Republicans Should Get Into the Game

By JIM DIPESO, REP’s policy director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Jim delivered this speech to King County Republican District Chairmen, Bellevue, Washington, on August 3, 2009.

The environment is not a partisan issue. Good stewardship is consistent with core conservative values, values that date back to Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism.

As Joe Scarborough wrote in his newest book,

“Conservatives should be driven by reason and moderation in the fight to protect the planet. Why? Because it is both morally right and politically smart.”

Joe Scarborough tells us that this is not about Al Gore.

It’s not about giving up our modern way of life, living in huts, and subsisting on nuts and twigs, as some of the more dogmatic lefties say. It’s not about arguing that environmental stewardship is a socialist conspiracy either.

It’s about keeping America strong and leaving future generations a healthy environment and the freedom to make their own choices, as Theodore Roosevelt said.

Republicans should own the environmental issue. It was ours and should be ours again. Not in the way that our Democrat friends would like. But in a way that makes sense for our nation’s security, our economy, and our quality of life.

That’s REP’s message. Conservation is conservative and ought to be a central part of the GOP’s vision for our country.

After the 2006 and 2008 election, we’re all trying to figure out a way back.

Part of the formula for being more competitive in Washington and other states that are bluish to middling purple is to convince voters that Republicans care about the environment, but have some different ideas about meeting important goals such as clean air, clean water, and protecting special lands.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would not share those goals. But of late, Republicans have not been adept at articulating how to achieve them.

Several years ago, I attended a Mainstream Republicans event over at SeaTac. One of the breakout sessions was how Republicans can talk about the environment.

One of the speakers was [former gubernatorial candidate] Jim Waldo. Waldo’s message was that Republicans tend to mumble when it comes to the environment.

Jim Waldo’s advice:

“Stop mumbling!”

But why bother thinking this through? The Democrats are bound to make mistakes – they’ve made many already – so why not just wait until they make a hash of things and wait for the votes to fall into our basket like ripe fruit?

Well, short-term that might work. Long-term, that’s problematic. After you tell the voters what’s wrong with the Democrats’ ideas, you have to tell them what’s right with ours. People would be interested – if they think we’re really serious about solving problems and not just playing politics.

Right now, as pollster John Zogby told Newsmax recently, voters are getting antsy about the direction Obama is going in. But remember this distinction. While more may be saying “no” to the Democrats, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re saying, “yes” to the Republicans. They can’t say “yes” until we present them with something to say “yes” to.

Or, as Governor Tim Pawlenty said in a speech to the RNC last week:

“Our strategy can’t be we hope the other side goofs up and kicks it in the dugout.”

One problem that pollster Zogby spotlighted is that we’re not appealing to important demographics. We’re not telling our story in a way that can draw these groups in. One of those is people 30 and under.

Exit polling last November showed that the proportion of young people identifying as Democrats was the highest since 1972. It’s easy to think that Obama mesmerized the young and wheedled them into voting for the D’s. But in the midterm election of 2006, when Obama was not a factor, young people identifying as Democrats outnumbered young people identifying as Republicans, 43 to 31 percent.

Winston Churchill was reported to have said that if you don’t vote liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, and if you don’t vote conservative when you’re older, you have no brain.

The conventional wisdom is that young people will wise up as they age and start voting Republican.

When you look at data, however, the evidence from the party identification and voting behavior of previous cohorts of young people don’t support it.

Now, why the focus on young people? It’s to illustrate our point that Republicans ought to think more carefully how they present themselves on the environment and come up with credible, positive alternatives that do more than just say “no” to the Democrats’ ideas.

First, our party has a great story to tell. I’m always amazed that so few people know it.

We were the original conservationists. All of us, of course, are proud of the achievements of Theodore Roosevelt, the greatest conservationist in American history.

TR loved the outdoors and wildlife. During his lifetime, he was considered one of the world’s foremost experts on large North American game mammals. Had he not gone into politics, he might have made his mark as a great natural historian.

But TR’s personal interests were not the most important reason that TR was a great conservationist. The most important reason was that he was convinced that protecting our natural heritage was good for America.

He said, and I quote:

“Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

Now, some of our Democrat friends would say that Theodore Roosevelt was an outlier, an exception, who wasn’t a, quote, typical Republican. Well, that’s wrong. There have been many other Republican conservation heroes, some well known, others less so.

Herbert Hoover. Yes, the great engineer whose memory is burdened by the Depression. What many don’t remember him for is that he expanded our national park system by 40 percent.

Congressman John Saylor, a staunch conservative from western Pennsylvania. Anybody here know about John Saylor? He served in Congress for a quarter century until he died in office in the early 1970s. While serving as a naval officer on a troop transport during World War II, he was in charge of the ship’ flags. It was John Saylor who picked out the first flag that Marines planted atop Iwo Jima.

Saylor equated protecting natural beauty with patriotism and doing God’s will. He said: “To permit the despoilment of our natural resources would be to desecrate a divine inheritance.”

For that and other reasons, Congressman Saylor was the co-sponsor of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Richard Nixon. He understood the environment’s importance to the public. It was Nixon’s initiative that brought us landmark legislation such as the Clean Air Act.

In our state, of course, Dan Evans, whose stewardship achievements are well known.

There was another Republican who did more for the environment than liberals give him credit for. Let me tell you a story about him.

He was getting an earful about protecting the atmosphere from harmful emissions.

He had heard all the reasons for doing nothing. The problem isn’t real. There is too much scientific uncertainty. We should wait for more research. Our economy depends on the products that cause the emissions. There is no feasible substitute for the products. Limiting emissions will kill jobs.

At the end of the day, however, he decided that protective measures were called for. He dismissed skeptics opposed to action and ordered the State Department to negotiate a strong but balanced treaty to phase out products causing the emissions. After its ratification, this statesman called the treaty a “monumental achievement.”

The statesman was Ronald Reagan. Thanks to him, a treaty to protect the upper atmosphere’s protective ozone layer from chemical emissions was signed in 1987 and ratified shortly afterward.

The treaty was the most significant international environmental agreement ever negotiated. And it was an achievement that Ronald Reagan was very proud of.

Now, let’s jump forward two decades. We’re talking once again about legislation and treaties to reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

We’re talking about energy, one of the most complicated, vexing, and far-reaching issues on our plate. Energy has a broad reach – over our economy, national security, public health, and our quality of life.

Let’s start with oil. Our dependence on oil is a strategic liability. It exposes our economy to global petro-politics, enriches our enemies, and underwrites violent extremism. If we lock ourselves into a future that perpetuates our dependence on oil, that is what we will be buying.

Will more domestic oil drilling free us from this trap? It might bring a bit of short-term relief, but don’t be complacent. Oil prices are set in a global commodity market and there is little chance of becoming self-sufficient in oil, not when we use three times as much as we produce and our share of global oil reserves is less than 3 percent.

A few weeks ago, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy retired, and commander of the Third Fleet, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“We simply do not have enough resources in this country to free us from the stranglehold of those who do.”

Freeing ourselves from oil dependence will be a long and difficult job. That’s not a reason to avoid it. We must push new fuels, new energy sources, and new energy technologies forward as hard as we can.

Like good investors, we must diversify our energy portfolio.

That means using more natural gas. Unlike oil, we get almost all of our gas from domestic sources. Unlike oil, we have a lot of natural gas in this country, and the new shale gas discoveries are very exciting.

That means more nuclear energy. We should spend more money bringing on line a new generation of nuclear reactors that will be able to generate electricity and produce hydrogen to run fuel cells. Nukes running electric cars can help us get off the oil dependence treadmill.

That means more renewables – wind, sun, waves. The fuel is free and will last forever.

And we must push efficiency. That means getting the most value out of every dollar we spend on energy. Nothing could be more conservative.

By efficiency, I don’t mean deprivation. I don’t mean shivering in our homes while a scowling Jimmy Carter tells us to eat our peas.

I mean building on our energy efficiency accomplishments over the past 35 years. Thanks to efficiency, we spend half a trillion dollars less on energy than we would have otherwise. That’s half a trillion dollars that can be put to much more productive uses than wasted energy.

There is more to be achieved. The McKinsey Company, one of the world’s leading business consulting firms, just released a study showing that $1.2 trillion in untapped efficiency savings are waiting to be scooped up.

Now, let’s talk about the boogie man in the living room. Climate change.

Who was the most prominent politician to draw global attention to the issue of climate change? How many here think it was Al Gore?

No! It was Margaret Thatcher. When the Iron Lady was prime minister, her science adviser brought the matter to her attention. She understood the implications immediately. Margaret Thatcher told the world that we ought to take it seriously.

Two decades later, Congressman Dave Reichert voted for a House climate and energy bill. He has taken a lot of heat for it. We thanked him for what he did. And I’m going to tell you why.

First, Dave Reichert is telling us that it’s in our interest and our country’s interest to reclaim our party’s history and heritage. He reminds his fellow Republicans that we have made ourselves absent from environmental debates. We have let the other party define the problem and dictate the solutions.

Second, Dave Reichert represents a district where many voters place a high premium on the environment. If Reichert didn’t vote environmental, his constituents would find someone else to represent them.

Third, Reichert knows that it’s past time to face up to the tangle of energy problems that we have been putting off and putting off facing up to. Like a good cop, he goes where the facts take him, whether it’s politically correct or not.

Regardless of what we may think about climate change and its causes, it’s not prudent to disregard what many researchers with expertise in this matter are telling us. Dave Reichert knows that.

Now, all science is provisional. There will always be questions. There’s a Nobel Prize waiting for scientists who can show, with hard, validated evidence, that the current explanations for climate change are off base.

If that happens, great. It would probably make for easier choices. Unless and until that happens, however, we have to work with the facts we have, not the ones we wish we had.

Dave Reichert knows that too.

Reichert voted for that House bill. He knows as well as we do that this bill needs a good scrubbing. Moving it on to the Senate gives the Senate a chance to do so.

It was a close call, but Dave Reichert made a judgment that we cannot sit on the sidelines and continue sending money to the world’s worst regimes and to the violent extremists that live off oil money.

We cannot stand by and let other countries get the jobs and investments building the advanced technologies of tomorrow.

And we cannot let one party dictate all of the environmental solutions.

I’ll close with something Ronald Reagan said a quarter century ago:

“What is a conservative, after all, but one who conserves. We want to protect and conserve the land on which we live – our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it better than we found it.”

Thank you.