The Single-issue Voter: A birder’s look at Barack Obama (D)
It’s that time again. As civic-minded individuals do, I’m oft interested in how the platforms of those running for president affect my life, that’s as a birder naturally. With so many candidates and elections still more than a year off I decided to do the work so you, dear reader(s), don’t have to. So here’s what I hope will be a regular look as those who would be birder-in-chief. Starting with the long-shots and working my way up so that you all will be prepared when the time comes to cast your ballot. This is the first of a four part series looking at the challenger and the incumbent.
Four years ago, I endorsed (with all the authority that the endorsement of a random bird blog entails) Barack Obama for president of the United States over his opponent, John McCain, largely because his was the only campaign that even gave the specific policy interests of conservationists and naturalists the time of day. I was discouraged, and continue to be, by the cookie-cutter 20 year old responses to energy policy and platitudes about “energy independence” in an attempt to appeal to environmentalists. Obama’s plans, which involved increased investment in landmark environmental policy like the Wetland Reserve Program and efforts to acquire and conserve public lands and new parks, including underserved ecosystems like the Great Plains and the eastern forests, was precisely what I was looking for. It was ambitious, perhaps too ambitious in retrospect, but it showed a concern for the environment and an ethos that was appealing. By contrast, the McCain campaign’s policy consisted of warmed over oil and gas industry talking points.
Needless to say, such an ambitious policy met with some resistance from Congress and none of those initiatives ever saw the light of day. I have my issues with the Obama presidency, but most of those issues have to do with the lack of seriousness with which he took the vitriol of his opposition. Even policies that saw broad bipartisan support in the past were deemed worthy of unified derision from those on the other side of the aisle for what appears to be purely political reasons. This is hardly limited to any sort of conservation policy, but as those sorts of programs are low on the political totem pole – particularly when his administration is tasked with a addressing a huge economic disaster – it was frustrating, if not entirely unexpected, that very little got done to those ends.
That said, much can be made of the Obama Administration’s disappointing Interior Department and its feckless head Ken Salazar. Their response to the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history, the Deepwater Horizon crisis, was to bend over backwards to the extraction industry’s demands to make BP’s culpability as minimal as possible, and this when we don’t even know the long-term impact of those long months in the summer of 2010.
In fact, Salazar’s tenure at Interior has been practically defined by being overly-differential to oil and gas interests. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, drilling on public lands has increased and the precess required for government approval of those wells has been expedited. This is in spite of the spate of recent warnings about the health dangers inherent in the gas drilling techniques increasingly being used to access these fossil fuel reserves. And despite the very real warning about the dangers of oil development off-shore implicit the Deepwater Horizon, the Obama Administration approved that very same technique to be employed in the environmentally sensitive and geographically treacherous Chukchi Sea in Alaska.
The administration’s continued hemming and hawing on the Keystone XL pipeline, which seeks to bring fossil fuels mined the unimaginably destructive Canadian tar sands, is also disturbing. Not only does the processing of this crude involve the clear-cutting of western Canada’s boreal forests and reduction of that crucial habitat to a veritable lifeless moonscape (and no, that is not an overstatement), but many climate scientists have suggested that use of this resource is game-over for any attempt at mitigating the very worst effects of global climate change. The president’s, and his state and interior department’s, inaction on this critical issue has been immoral, and I’m tempted to say that neither of the candidates for president deserve the votes of a conservation minded American. And certainly neither Romney or Obama seem to care, even tangentially, about the needs of birders.
But let’s be clear here. These issues which are disappointing to those of us who pay attention in an Obama Administration would not even be questions in a Romney Administration.
For a Romney Administration, the Keystone pipeline would be approved unconditionally. In a Romney Administration, drilling on public lands would be a given, and it would be lightly regulated at that. In a Romney Administration, the promise of opportunities for Americans to enjoy those public lands set aside for us for generations would be in question.
I am not a dewy-eyed supporter of Obama. I would prefer a president who puts conservation concerns front and center, or at least acknowledges them. Who fights for the right of all Americans to continue to have the opportunity to discover the outdoors on their terms. Who institutes regulations for environmental and public health that have teeth. I would, frankly, prefer the president who was running for office in 2008. I accept that, in supporting Obama I am supporting essentially the lesser of two evils.
But we are kidding ourselves if we think that democracy is ever anything but the lesser of two evils. And one evil is decidedly less so than the other.
It is critically important that we who care about the natural world work to prevent Republicans from getting anywhere close to the lever of power until that party decides to, once again, become a honest broker for the American people. Obama is far from perfect, but the modern GOP denies basic and settled science on principle, celebrates that ignorance, and denies the role that the government, at its very core, needs to play to keep us safe and healthy. These are not the positions of a reasonable opposition, these are the positions of unprincipled bomb-throwers willing to do anything and everything to get what they want.
So it is with some trepidation that I once again support Obama. I may be disappointed in him, but my disappointment is a small price to pay to prevent the disaster that a Romney Administration would practically guarantee.