Republican renaissance through climate change

Image: mariopiperni/Flickr.

Image: mariopiperni/Flickr.

The Republicans are a party in crisis. Having lost the election, they’re now wracked with internal strife and prospects for a turnaround in the near term appear dim. The primary reasons for this decline are demographic: their values, platform, and policies are now dangerously out of sync with the mainstream, and diverging further every year. Exploring this divergence could fill an article of its own, but it’s best summed up by the Republican party’s recent “autopsy” of their 2012 election failures which concluded the party is simply “too old, too white.”

Faced with these demographic challenges, Republicans understandably fear they’ll be marginalized and irrelevant within a generation. They’re in need of a renaissance, a new narrative that draws attention away from their current controversies over “legitimate rape”, and funding cuts for social programs. Building this narrative requires a bridge issue, one that appeals to broad new audiences without compromising the party’s core values.

That issue is climate change.

Whoa! How could climate change possibly be a Republican issue? After all, isn’t it counter to the interests of Big Business, and don’t dozens of Republican congressmen openly deny the science behind it? How can climate change possibly become the issue that saves the party?

Let’s begin with a truism about politics: perception is reality. Perception matters more than policy, and political packaging is one of the Republican party’s core strengths. Consider their success establishing narratives like “lower taxes grow the economy” and “immigrants are stealing American jobs.” While each of these is empirically false, a combination of intuitive packaging and endless repetition have forged them in to cultural truisms. Republican’s current branding of climate change includes phrases like “job-killing” and “left-wing conspiracy,” which has, over the years, turned their base squarely against the issue. But if they change that branding, perceptions from the base and the public at large will change with it. So let’s begin!

Climate change threatens our freedom!

What? That’s stupid. But wait: if you’re a rancher or a farmer in the American West, your freedom is enormously constrained by the horrific drought of the last two years. You don’t get to choose what you’re going to plant, or what cows you’re going to slaughter. And at the other end, shoppers are losing freedom of choice at the supermarket, as climate change destroys certain crops and makes meat unaffordable.

God commands we fight it!

Right out of the gate in Genesis, the Bible states “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it,” a responsibility we violate as we continue to pollute our air and water. Furthermore, addressing climate change fulfills the Christian’s commitment to aid the poor (whom climate change hits disproportionately). Across the country, religious leaders are beginning to understand climate change in its moral context and seeing it as an opportunity to apply their creed in the real world.

Our national security depends on it!

It’s telling that despite several ongoing military conflicts and nuclear threats from North Korea, America’s generals and intelligence agencies continue to identify climate change as our top threat. It’s no coincidence that the countries American forces are engaged in are some of those hit hardest by climate change! Climate change makes basic resources like food and water scarce, which in turn breeds unrest and radicalism…things that never turn out well for America. Admittedly, addressing this new kind of national security threat takes a major shift in thinking. Once we accept that we can’t kill our way out of resource shortages, we’ll realize our national security dollars are better spent on efforts like developing renewable energy and educating women in the third world.

Carbon — the original sequester

And what are the rewards for pursuing this strategic rebranding? First, Republicans would win their most prized demographics: non-whites, the young, and the poor. Second, flanked from the left, Democrats would be made to look out-of-touch and the party of the establishment. Finally, as climate change sheds its partisan taint, bills to address it will begin sailing through Congress, government will begin working again in the eyes of the people, and Republicans will get all the credit. Refocusing the party on climate change is akin to hitting the reset button: in one logically consistent move, Republicans would halt their decline and be revitalized, while preserving their core values.

Now before we get too enthusiastic about the idea of a Republican embrace of climate change, let’s be honest with ourselves: it will never happen. While resistance to massive change is to be expected, the biggest reason the GOP will not pursue this strategy is it relies on campaign contributions from Big Oil to get its candidates elected.

As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Yet if there were anyone who could transcend this paradigm, it’s Chris Christie. Who better to pursue this issue than a governor of a state that was wrecked by Hurricane Sandy? While he might be persona non grata with party leaders at the moment, he is still highly respected by the rank and file as the rarest of birds: someone who puts his constituents ahead of politics.

Climate change is the issue of our time. Today’s arguments about its science and legislation will be replaced with tomorrow’s responses to food riots and accommodating climate refugees. Yet the grimness of climate change is matched by its political opportunity — the opportunity to command an issue that will dominate human culture for generations. For their continued relevance in American politics, for the health of a democracy that needs diverse opinions to thrive, and for the sake of humanity’s future, let us hope the Republicans are the ones to embrace this opportunity.

— Eric Krasnauskas, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    Thanks for the excellent article, with some surprising insights.

    I have just one question.

    Referring to two GOP narratives — “lower taxes grow the economy” and “immigrants are stealing American jobs” — you say that both are empirically false and you make the phrase “while each of these is empirically false” a hyperlink pointing to …

    However, that hyperlink takes us to a terrific refutation of only the lower taxes assertion. It says nothing about the immigration issue.

    Since I’ve heard progressives like Thom Hartmann and Bernie Sanders assert that a progressive case can be made for the idea that undocumented immigrants do hurt American laborers to some extent, I’m very interested in your empirical source that refutes such a progressive position on immigration. Hartmann also suggests that immigration was a non-issue during the period when labor unions were strong in this country.

    I’d appreciate seeing the empirical data on this aspect of the immigration issue.

  2. says

    “While resistance to massive change is to be expected, the biggest reason the GOP will not pursue this strategy is it relies on campaign contributions from Big Oil to get its candidates elected.”

    Clever… an article purporting to be about Republican rebranding isn’t really, it’s about posturing that on energy policy, there’s a substantial difference between the two major legacy parties. There isn’t. “All of the Above”, the Democratic Party policy, differs little from the Republican in its practical effect. It amounts to “Drill Baby Drill” vs “Drill, and a windmill”.

    To suggest that the Republican Party is controlled by oil interests and the Democratic Party is not is just not just disingenuous, it’s flat-out misleading. For instance, Bill Clinton is a lobbyist for Noble Energy, the Houston based fossil industry heavily invested in Gulf of Mexico, Arctic and Eastern Mediterranean (read Israel, Lebanon Syria) oil & gas development. Think the energy, climate or Mid East policies of the Democratic Party are going to change anytime soon? Or is it they just don’t seem to require any rebranding?

    • says

      Hi Stephen,

      “To suggest that the Republican Party is controlled by oil interests and the Democratic Party is not is just not just disingenuous, it’s flat-out misleading. ”

      I never say this in the article, do I? I can see how you might mistakenly infer it, but there’s no endorsement of the Democratic party here, only imagining a transformational step Republicans could take to pull out of their systemic nose dive. Democrats are certainly beholden to their interests as well, but for the moment their interests aren’t openly hostile to the science and legislation of climate change.

  3. TR says

    When the global party for Human Near Term Extinction begins,I hope I can stay to see which political theology is the last standing & how much money they possess.
    As the Grateful Dead sang: “I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe
    But at least I’m enjoying the ride,”

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