Beyond Solyndra

Over at Grist, David Roberts has an interesting piece that argues the Solyndra brouhaha and general defensiveness have blinded Democrats to the strong public support, across party lines, for “clean energy” and government efforts to promote it. Citing both Stan Greenberg’s focus-group findings during the SOTU address, and more general polling data, Roberts suggests this could actually become a “wedge issue” for Democrats:

Americans know that clean energy is the future. They want to embrace the future. They want to, well, win it. They certainly don’t want to fend it off for the sake of oil companies. Americans hate oil companies! (Almost as much as they hate congressional Republicans.) They don’t want to subsidize oil companies any more. Even Republicans support ending oil subsidies by a 2-to-1 margin.

The underlying point I’d make about David’s argument is that people in politics, and especially Democrats, have long had an unfortunate tendency to avoid whole topics that they perceive as “enemy territory” or “the other party’s issues.” That may be happening with Democrats on energy and the environment right now. It’s true that some sub-issues in this area remain tough –there’s no question progressives have lost ground with the public on dealing with global climate change during the last few years, and will always have trouble with policy prescriptions that deliberately aim at raising energy prices.

But while it’s always appropriate to emphasize or de-emphasize this or that issue on strategic or tactical grounds at some particular moment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about an ideology or a political party that is unwilling to offer its own distinctive “take” on subjects the public cares about. David’s right there is a progressive opportunity on “clean energy” that ought to be fully exploited. Even if he was wrong, though, it’s a terrible habit to shut down thinking and talking about major national challenges just because “the other side” seems to have an advantage.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.