It’s always interesting to me when someone I admire so clearly gets something wrong. A recent post by Robert Kennedy Jr. at the Huffington Post links the devastating hurricane that impacted the South to the global warming policies of Republicans, specifically Mississippis’s governor, Haley Barbour.
In the broad sense, of course, he is right. Global warming does have a demonstrated impact on devastating environmental problems, as as he points out, scientists are making that connection more clear each day.
However,the disappointment is that his argument relies on the same appeal to emotion over science that he so correctly faulted the Bush Administraion for–when it decided not to pursue emissions reductions. To suggest that this particular hurricane was caused by a less than 1o year old policy is facile and absurd logic–the kind of pseudo-logic that conservatives use when they claim a cold winter day proves that global warming isn’t real. Kennedy is sophisticated enough to know that global climate changes are much more complex than that, and his argument suffers as a result of the decision to go for such a simple explanation.
Perhaps, more importantly, it sends a message about environmentalism that Republicans will no doubt exploit. I am certain that these remarks will be featured on Limbaugh by the end of the week, and O’Reilly by the end of the evening. Kennedy has to be savvy enough to know that the Right has succeeded in painting environmentalism as radical by distorting and exploiting comments by environmentalists; the damage will only be more significant when the comments have come from such a respected mainstream environmental figure.
Once again, I fear that the Right will win this rhetorical debate. By invoking pious prayers to God and making hollow promises to rebuild, Bush and the Republicans will be perceived as caring about the common person more–while the media will ignore that a great deal of the devastation was certainly the result of the endemic poverty in Mississippi and Alabama–poverty that Republican policies have helped perpetuate.
We on the left need to recapture the rhetorical high ground because our positions on poverty and assistance to the poor are morally superior, and dare I say, Christian.