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Green vs. Blue Showdown At The White House

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline continues to be a headache for Obama: On the one side are his environmental supporters, who are committed to killing what they understand will be a dirty, environmentally-disastrous project. On the other hand is the opportunity to create as many as 20,000 jobs for Americans. The Washington Post ran a long story on the showdown today:

The Keystone permit decision has landed literally and figuratively on the White House’s doorstep. Several key union allies and the Canadian government are pitted against environmental and youth activists who are threatening to turn Keystone into a campaign issue for President Obama…

The final decision on the project is still pending, but officials seem to be leaning toward approval. Many greens have vowed to abandon Obama if he allows the pipeline to go ahead, and there are plans to surround the White House in November with signs written with Obama’s past pro-green arguments.

But kill the project and you kill a golden opportunity to create thousands of American jobs. And these aren’t just any jobs.  They are well paid union jobs, and four labor unions have signed agreements with the pipeline project.

For a Democratic president, a green vs. union fight is the worst confrontation you can have.  It pits upper middle class liberals against what is left of the blue collar base that in former times was the core of the Democratic Party.  Obama’s election was a victory for an alliance of African Americans and gentry liberals against the blue collar wing of the party who tended to back Secretary Clinton, and the tensions persist.

Under normal circumstances it might make sense for President Obama to go with the greens on this one, but with unemployment such a major issue, it is hard to kick jobs, even brown jobs, in the teeth.

Either way, the price will be high.  Angry greens like Bill McKibben think that opening the door to production of oil from the Canadian tar sands will release so much CO2 in the atmosphere that disastrous climate change can no longer be stopped.  Greens won’t vote GOP in 2012, but they won’t give much money, some won’t vote at all, and they will contribute to a sense that the once shiny new President has been tarnished and diminished in office.

But kill the jobs, and the price will be higher.  The Canadian tar sands are a great GOP wedge issue.  Energy security appeals to a rattled, war-weary country: the idea that we could some day ditch the Middle East and get all our oil close to home has a lot of appeal.  Since the tar sands themselves are in Canada and no US landscapes will be strip mined or otherwise disturbed, the only reason not to build the pipeline and enjoy the windfall is the fight against climate change — and a lot of independent voters don’t see that as a big threat, especially when their minds are focused on jobs.

And they will truly blow their tops if they learn that blocking the pipeline won’t stop development of the oil reserves.  If we don’t want that oil, China does — and the Canadians are determined to sell.  To kill 20,000 jobs and endanger US energy security to make an ineffective symbolic protest against an oilfield in a foreign country may not be the strongest political choice a president can make.

If President Obama had a good reputation otherwise as a job creator, things might be different.  If the green jobs initiative had been less of a disaster, there might be something he could do.

But as it stands, it seems that blocking the pipeline could endanger the President’s re-election.

Ugly days in the House of Hope.

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  • Bill Glahn

    I read the whole piece in the Post. I think the paper’s and Mead’s analysis are both spot on. However, I read the story focusing on the environmental groups and how much money each had gotten to fight the tar sands.

  • Peter

    It’s true, the Greens won’t vote GOP in 2012
    but aside from staying home, their might be a Ralph Nadar type on the ballot that will attract them and the other radical leftists.

  • Randy

    “Energy security appeals to a rattled, war-weary country: the idea that we could some day ditch the Middle East and get all our oil close to home has a lot of appeal.”

    What we need are some Revival Jeffersonians. Do they even exist?

  • Alan Kellogg

    Don’t forget the oil sands of North Dakota, which means even more jobs and possibly the development of much of the state. The various Indian tribes native to the state stand to gain much from oil development there.

  • J R Yankovic

    “If we don’t want that oil, China does — and the Canadians are determined to sell. To kill 20,000 jobs and endanger US energy security to make an ineffective symbolic protest against an oilfield in a foreign country may not be the strongest political choice a president can make.”

    We’re fools if we let the Chinese rush in where “angels” fear to tread. (Though I have to admit, I’d definitely think twice if the oil were coming out of Mexico . . .)

  • f1b0nacc1

    The problem with these analyses is that they tend to portray voters and various pressure groups (call them what you will, that is what they are) as unidimensional. Suggesting for instance, that gentry liberals (the ‘greens’) will stay home, vote for a primary challenger, go third party, etc. must ultimately require that these voters care so much about one issue (in this case the pipeline, or the broader issue of the environment) that they would willingly sabotage a candidate who may in fact support other issues (for example, taxes or spending priorities) that are also important to those same voters. I doubt very strongly, for instance, that a gentry liberal is going to sit out an election where Obama is running against a candidate who favors let’s say a substantial reduction in federal spending combined with a significant change in entitlements no matter what that liberal might feel about the desirability (or lack thereof in this case) of the XL pipeline. Most of the issues near and dear to the left tend to cluster together (i.e. high spending levels + unionism + environmentalism + various social positions + etc.) and it is unlikely that any one example of apostasy is going to seriously degrade voting behavior. In fairness, the very same phenomenon is likely operative on the conservative side of the equation, i.e. you are unlikely to see a substantial number of conservatives sit out an election just because their ideal candidate is not nominated or that the candidate that is has one or more objectionable positions.

    My point is not to suggest that there is no conflict here, there certainly is, but to empahsize that voter behavior tends to be more complex and interconnected than the analysis above would indicate. Were I in the White House right now, I wouldn’t welcome this hobbsean choice, but I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. The Greenies simply have nowhere else to go, and the unions are in a very similar situation. Like it or not, they are part of a coalition, and that means that they have to make tradeoffs and accept compromises, no matter how unfortunate they might find that state of affairs.

    Before I hear about individual objections and the usual horde of anecdotes, there are always some outliers who live in single issue world. I simply point out that these individuals are not likely to be present in sufficient quantities or posessed of sufficient resources to be of any broad significance in the political calculus. Single issue voters (and their proxy groups) tend to have limited impact precisely because they marginalize themselves and find it impossible to enter coalitions. The Simon-pure types may get the benefit of feeling virtuous, but whether the issue is the environment or abortion, you compromise or you are left behind.

    With all of that said, break out the popcorn, it should be fun to watch the loons fight amongst themselves. The pipeline will win (this corpratist WH is not going to let all those lovely, lovely revenues slip away to satisfy some patchouli soaked whackos), so this whole debate is more about entertainment value than policy.

  • Otis McWrong

    I’m with Fibbonaci (plz excuse any spelling error of your name). This is primarily entertainment value – watching President LightweightEmptySuit squirm is fun.

    I always find it amusing when leftist sacred cows start colliding. The modern Democrat party is basically an incoherent mass of interest groups all clamoring for different stuff. That leads to “issues” at times.

    One amusing recent example of this was in 2008 when black voter turnout in CA was significantly elevated – they non-racistly voted 98% for the Messiah, and while at the polls they were asked to opine on Proposition 8 (“Stop the H8” said the rainbows) which would amend the CA constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Say what you will about other black pathologies, they have not abandoned common sense, so voted largely in favor of Proposition 8. It passed as we all know (though the courts have managed to impede even the constitution). Now the shrill homosexuals (redundant, I know) are furious. But they can’t be furious at blacks since blacks are incapable of doing wrong, even though it was black turnout and black voting patterns that provided the path to Prop 8. So what to do? Blame it on the Mormons!

  • JD

    EnerGeoPolitics has a post on The Keystone XL pipeline today as well. It points out that the alternative, a pipeline across the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Northwest, poses far greater environmental risks.

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