‘Establishment’ Democrats as Agents of Change

In writing about the fact that climate change is a major contributing factor in migration to the U.S., I had already been thinking about John Kerry. Then I saw this exchange with Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on the need for leadership to combat climate change.

Republicans should know better than to challenge Kerry when it comes to his expertise on the facts of climate change. As so often happens these days, I was reminded of a time in the not-too-distant past when we had intelligent, thoughtful people working on the most profound issues we face as a country today.

But John Kerry should also remind us of something else. It is clear that he made mistakes over the course of his political career—just as we would expect from any human being. Coming at the height of resistance to the Iraq War, Kerry’s vote to authorize George W. Bush’s decision to invade that country was a major hurdle during the 2004 presidential election. In an era where candidates are often divided into “establishment” and “insurgent,” Kerry was clearly the former.

I suspect, however, that Kerry will be remembered more for what he accomplished during his tenure as Secretary of State with the Obama administration than his time as a senator or presidential candidate. Beyond the excruciating work of negotiating the Iran nuclear agreement, he was the lead on developing the Paris Climate Accord. I still remember the day he signed the agreement at the United Nations with his two year-old granddaughter Isabelle on his lap.

It is important to remember how Kerry worked to make that happen. Here is what Coral Davenport wrote back in 2014.

In his first year as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry joined with the Russians to push Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, and played the closing role in the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. But while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution…

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.

I think about that when some liberals attempt to tar certain Democrats with the label “establishment” and dismiss them as viable change agents. No one, beyond that other “establishment” Democrat Al Gore, has done more to address the issue of climate change than John Kerry. His successes came primarily from embedding the State Department and all of their work with a focus on the issue. Beyond sweeping statements, that is how change happens.

These days, while much of the media is obsessed with the more vocal members recently elected to Congress, we are watching a few “establishment” Democrats step into the spotlight to hold Donald Trump accountable. I was recently struck by this tweet:

To be clear, that picture includes:

  • Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee
  • Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee
  • Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee
  • Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee
  • Richard Neal, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee

That line-up is already taking heat and dishing it out in ways we’d almost forgotten could happen during the last eight years of a House Republican majority. Of course, leading that charge is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has reminded all of us that she not only knows what she’s doing, but is a force to be reckoned with.

John Kerry is the politician who taught me that dismissing Democrats under the guise that they are “establishment” was a serious mistake. Just imagine where we’d be on the issue of climate change if he had been elected president in 2004. We now have a host of leaders in Congress that are putting an exclamation point on that lesson. It is way past time to discard our mistaken notions about the distinction between “establishment” and “insurgent.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.