Another awkward August for the left

by: John G. Lankford

July 12, 2003

More of America than the environs of Tucson and Albuquerque is blazing. An airplane pilots' Temporary Flight Restrictions map online dramatically reveals that. By clicking on any red fire symbol, one obtains specific details. Even more up-to-date details are acessible at the fire news website of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Continued drought in the western states has combined with accumulation of dense underbrush, deadfall, diseased trees, insect-infested trees and years of under-harvest and strict fire suppression to create extremely combustible conditions.

In May, the House of Representatives passed a major remedy, the Bush-administration-backed Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by an impressively bipartisan 256-170 margin. This week, on July 16, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee is scheduled to resume deliberations and then vote on it. Six days later, the Senate Energy and Resources Committee will take it up. But within days thereeafter, the August Congressional recess begins.

During the break, Democratic senators will indubitably encounter their fervid environmentalist constituents, who oppose the administration bill. Their policy of choice is to do nothing, let it burn, on a theory that there is nothing wrong with forests not attributable to human intervention and curtailing same, even at a cost of suffering super-wildfires, is the only acceptable course. After such holocausts, they assert, the forests will heal themselves and then maintain their health with occasional lower-intensity fires as nature has always provided.

Zealous environmentalist organizations and their members are big political donors, and approximately ninety percent of their largesse goes to Democrats.

A desperate Greenpander

The senators would like to boast to their Green backers they are bravely holding the line against the Healthy Forests bill. Indeed, they may feel they have no choice. This spring, Greens threatened to run their 1996 and 2000 splinter presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, again in 2004.

Many Democrats blame Green ballots in Florida for their candidate Al Gore's loss to George Bush in that state, resulting in Bush's electoral-vote majority and Republican capture of the White House. In addition, as liberal columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. admitted last week, Democrats rely on large interest-group contributions much more than Republicans do.

To curry favor with intrepid Greens, to head off a Nader run, or to prevent a dismayed Green abstenton at the polls in 2004, Senate Democrats have so far shown every sign of maintaiing staunch opposition to the Healthy Forests bill, even against the wishes of their traditional labor constituency In this period of relatively high unemployment, unions are eyeing bounteous private-sector job creation, dues generation and economic stimulation the administration bill augurs.

Implementation of the Green-pandering policy choice is simple: Senate Democrats on that course can be expected to render grandstand performances in the committee hearings, extol the pretended virtues of either of two late-introduced Democratic sham substitute forestry bills, and try their best to avoid Healthy Forests' coming to the Senate floor for a vote before the August recess. That would enable them to take bows and collect money during the recess.

How a battle won can lose a war

By taking that tack, however, Senate Democrats risk losing more than they can retain. During August, 2002, President Bush, commanding media attention as only presidents can, sojourned to Medford, Oregon and, against the backdrop of a devastating superfire that had stricken that region, announced his Healthy Forests Initiative, the essentials of this year's Healthy Forests Restoration bill. Prior to that event, despite blazing forests, western senators' and governors' pleas for relief remained an obscure, low-priority item.

The president's adoption of it touched off a battle royal in the Senate when the Congressional session resumed. Then as now, Democrats pitched sham alternatives into the debate. Each side accused the other of obstructionism all fall. In November, Republicans scored record advances in the off-year elections and seized control of the Senate.

In 2004, unlike 2002, Democrats will have more Senate seats exposed to contest than Repubicans. So far, they have not produced either an issue or a standardbearer likely to overcome Bush's personal popularity or sixty-percent job performance approval rating among voters. Bush will probably have coattails as well as the advantages of White House incumbency. If Bush and Republicans spend August lamenting Democratic roadblocking as the forests burn Republicans could reap a virtually if not mathematically filibuster-proof Senate as well as make gains in the House in addition to regaining the executive branch in 2004.

Avid Green-group credibility has taken serious hits this summer. In June, long-sustained tirades by columnists Diane Alden, Henry Lamb and Alan Caruba gained currency at last: The Washington Post published an expose' of shady operations within The Nature Conservancy, the wealthiest single environmentalst organization. As a result, TNC suspended major portions of its operations pending policy and practices reviews. Commentators have tagged the incident the Enron of environmentalism.

This month, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, lambasted that organization for its obstruction of forest cleanup and stewardship. Prior to that, the National Association of Forest Service Retirees published a lengthy tome consistent with Moore's outcry.

The zealous environmental groups, which once had a cooperative administration in the White House and a virtual topic monopoly on things ecological, have drawn an increasing volume of rebuttal from responsible scientists and writers dismayed at their "junk science". And they have responded churlishly rather than collegially, even claiming exclusion of pseudoscientific lies from lawmaking processes amounts to curbs on their free expression (Note: For the rest of us, lying in Congressional testimony is criminal perjury).

As the pre-recess Senate hearings approach, the zealous-Green left has mobilized to defeat, stall, or minimize Healthy Forests, as a search engine survey of the bill's title will show. But this time, forest holocaust opponents, including the redoubtable American Land Rights Association are soliciting support.

By choosing faux-Greens over labor, and the nation's forests, Senate Democrats risk reinforcement of their obstructionist image for the sake of patently spurious approaches to a blazing crisis, and that to keep favor with gigantic, but steadily sinking, political Greenboats worm-eaten from within.


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