POSTED ON DECEMBER 21, 2011:
In Want of Leadership
We don't need an Apprentice, we need an Advocate
I don't know about you, but I was nearly disconsolate when I learned The Donald wouldn't be hosting a Republican presidential debate, after all.
You just thought the Saturday Night Live-esque debates were grand fun so far. Imagine if The Donald had choreographed The Apprentice, Presidential Style -- candidates to become leader of the Free World reduced to groveling and whimpering.
"Gingrich ... you're fired!"
It was a glorious opportunity missed. And suddenly, the holiday season -- particularly the reality TV viewing season -- didn't seem so inspired, much less joyous.
Until Ralph Nader, of all people, rode to the rescue.
You probably know the 77-year-old Nader as a consumer advocate extraordinaire or a former presidential aspirant. I would humbly suggest a new title: Public Policy Impresario.
With The Donald's debate dead, Nader offered to produce a public policy smackdown that could prove even more entertaining: He challenged our senior U.S. senator, Republican James Mountain Inhofe, to debate climate change with Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey.
Inhofe, the world's foremost climate-change denier, vs. Markey, former chair of the House Select Committee on Global Warming.
Mano e mano.
Both quickly accepted. Now Nader and others are ironing out the details, hoping to stage it as early as next month.
It's a C-Span natural, but I'm hoping it attracts a far wider audience. After all, only the future of the planet is at stake.
There are two obvious problems, though, with Nader's proposal:
First, Inhofe is the consummate demagogue -- a professional politician who's proven himself more than willing to say anything to support his point, the facts be damned.
Second, Oklahoma's image in the larger world -- nationally and internationally -- could take a serious hit if Inhofe is just his normal, red-necked, narrow-minded self.
Nader himself acknowledges the potential pitfalls in a one-on-one debate -- especially in Washington, where politicians of all stripes are remarkably adept at reciting talking points and ignoring serious give-and-take.
"This is a town where ships pass in the night," Nader said via phone from his Washington office. "That's one of the reasons for gridlock.
"There are not enough good, connective debates going on. So we hope this one will be that."
Nader's efforts were born of one of Inhofe's latest pop-offs: A video message aimed at the climate change summit in Durban, South Africa in which he essentially declared victory in the debate over whether human activity is dangerously altering the planet's climatology.
Inhofe long has contended climate change, or global warming, is "one of the greatest hoaxes" ever perpetrated -- hardly surprising given that his political career has depended on the deep pockets of carbon-related industries that fear stricter environmental standards could hurt their bottom lines.
He wants to be forever known as the man who debunked global warming, but his victory claim is dubious at best.
A recent Yale University-George Mason University poll found that an increasing percentage of Americans believe human activity is causing global warming (up three points since May) -- and 65 percent believe global warming is affecting U.S. weather.
Moreover, two-thirds of Americans surveyed say the U.S. should undertake large (26 percent) or medium-scale (40 percent) efforts to reduce global warming, even if it means "large or moderate economic costs."
I'm no scientist, but I can't fathom how Inhofe, with a straight face, can deny that we're not major contributors to Mother Earth's decline.
Consider this: When driving into downtown Tulsa or Oklahoma City on summer days, can you see smog? Many days, yes. Is it because we're each riding our ponies to work, rather than carriage pooling? Of course not -- it's because we're behind the wheels of gasoline-powered horseless carriages that belch nasty exhaust into the air for all of us to breathe.
Or how about this: Why is the state warning us not to eat fish from more than a dozen of our reservoirs? Is it primarily because of naturally occurring toxins? Or could it be that mercury from coal-fired power plants is spread by our persistent winds, contaminating water and land in its path?
Actually, Inhofe is right about one thing: The debate is over. The science is settled. Climate change is a reality -- temperatures are climbing and weather extremes (from drought to flooding to hurricanes) less rare.
And we're failing to confront the warning signs because too many of our policy-makers are captives of big money interests more interested in protecting their bottom lines than in producing sound environmental policy.
I can't envision the sneering: Anti-capitalist. Liberal. Hates anyone who makes a profit.
No, I'm a small businessman who's all for making profits. But I'm also concerned about the world we're leaving future generations. I want my young grandchildren -- in fact all of God's children -- to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water and enjoy the natural wonders I have.
Whether our senior senator wants to believe it or not, economic freedom and environmental quality are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, they are inevitably connected: Who cares how much money you make if you can't access clean drinking water? Who cares if you make the Forbes 400 list if your respiratory system is under constant assault from foul air? Who cares if you can afford to travel the world if there is no Glacier National Park left to visit?
That's one reason why a public debate between Inhofe and Markey not only could be riveting theater, but also informative, even productive.
If it doesn't become just another vehicle for Inhofe's inane soliloquies, perhaps it could help us gain greater understanding of the environmental challenges we face.
And maybe, just maybe, it could generate the momentum necessary for us to produce real solutions that ensure we leave behind clean air, water and land for future generations.
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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