And Al Gore Helps the Right, Yet Again

by: Matt Stoller

Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 10:03

This commercial, with Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, was put out eight months ago by Al Gore's 'We Campaign' on climate change.  It was a perplexing choice, because Gingrich was one of the most ardent opponents of climate change action for most of his career in politics, and featuring him as a good guy on the issue would give him credibility he might misuse.  Sure enough, two months ago, Newt Gingrich, backed by coal companies and billionaires, started the Drill Here Drill Now campaign, and the talking point about taking care of the environment was a key part of the message that 'environmental moderate' Newt Gingrich delivered (Gore has bitterly referred to the Drill Here Drill Now campaign as 'drinking the hair of the dog that bit you').

Gore's rationale for including Newt Gingrich was that the movement on climate change must be bipartisan, so he must feature people like Newt Gingrich in his campaign or else it will fail.  I was curious if there was a larger strategy here, or if Gore had accidentally greenwashed Gingrich, who is now referred to as an 'environmental moderate'.  It looks to me like it wasn't an accident, that Gore has continued to hire Beltway hacks that sabotage his aims and spew out a conventional wisdom that is harmful to the movement to change our climate policies.  Here's an email the group's CEO, Cathy Zoi, sent out on Friday, the day Congress went on recess.

Matt Stoller :: And Al Gore Helps the Right, Yet Again
Dear Jason,

We've heard lots of talk about energy lately.

But when it comes to action, there's not much to report.

Last week, the U.S. Congress left Washington without addressing the energy crisis. They didn't deal with gas prices. They didn't move on solutions to climate change. What's worse, their inability to renew the clean energy tax credits means that government incentive programs to support the solar and wind industries will expire at the end of this year. Jobs will be lost as a result of their inaction.

It's time we do some talking of our own. Please take a few minutes to send a letter to the editor at your local newspaper.

These letters are important. They get read by millions of people each day. They inform what talk show hosts cover on TV. Your comments could fuel a debate on the evening news.

And they are an easy way to reach Members of Congress -- who are all home for the summer and read the opinion pages of the paper each day.

America can generate 100% of our electricity from clean sources -- and we can do it within ten years. We can make the shift to renewable energy sources -- rebuilding our economy and cutting fuel costs. In a year when 'change' has become a refrain, let's make sure they know what real change looks like.

Letters to the editor in support of the oil industry are showing up all across the country -- a clear sign of an orchestrated campaign to maintain the status quo. We need to respond -- to make sure the media stops focusing on simplistic and misleading proposals that will worsen our economy.

Please -- send a short note. It should take just a few minutes and could make a huge difference in the public debate.


Cathy Zoi

This is really bad stuff.  The very first policy complaint was that Congress had not 'dealt' with gas prices, which of course implies drilling.  The ask for the email was that Congress stay in session, a particularly nasty request considering that a key part of Pelosi's strategy to hold off on more drilling is to refuse to allow it a vote in Congress.  

I'm not sure what's going on, but it's clear that Gore's staff is not capable of executing their campaign while doing even minimal coordination with the rest of the progressive energy space, House leaders, or anyone else who is going to push to implement Gore's remarkable energy plan.  The We Campaign staff is listed here.  The grassroots and alliance director is Donnie Fowler, the son of long-time South Carolina party elder Don Fowler.  Fowler worked for a conservative tech-oriented PAC in the 1990s, moved to the Gore campaign, and eventually wound up as campaign manager for Wes Clark's campaign in 2004 (he was fired after a day, and immediately and angrily went to the press with complaints).  He then moved on to the Kerry campaign in Michigan, where he was so incompetent that he lost something like $3 million dollars of donor money, with entire fleets of vans going missing.  In 2005, Fowler ran and lost the DNC Chair race to Howard Dean, despite a power play orchestrated by his father through the executive committee of the state chair assocation.  More recently, he has spent his time mocking liberal bloggers as a 'pajama mafia' that is being ritually humiliated by Obama.  

Now, I bring this up because Fowler is the one in charge of alliances and grassroots, so it's no surprise that there is no coordination with progressive allies.  This was actually a pretty big complaint in Gore's 2000 race, where Donnie Fowler was, yup, the National Field Director.  I don't really understand why Gore would hire the same people that screwed up his Presidential race to run his climate group, but it's worth nothing that consultant driven caution is pretty pervasive, and it never works in any context, Presidential or issue-based.

I've had discussions with multiple people in the energy/green space (from competent groups), and they are furious at the repeated political lapses in judgment from Gore's climate groups.  While spectacularly good on the technology and policy side, Gore's people simply refuses to cooperate or lead on the politics, preferring to sketch out big picture visions, refusing to set up infrastructure to actualize them, and then undermining attempts to organize around his vision by empowering people like Newt Gingrich and the House GOP caucus whining 'Don't Go Home'.

If we could just get elite validators like Al Gore pointed in the right direction instead of training his fire on people in the progressive energy space, we'd be a lot more successful in avoiding catastrophe.  Now, a few months ago, I tried asking Gore about this, putting the question to his spokesperson, Kalee Kreider, of why he validated Newt Gingrich.  She won't respond to my queries.  While Netroots Nation moderators wouldn't let me ask Gore a question, I did manage to get Gore on tape by posing two questions at the receiving line [update: I should note that this was not some sort of conspiracy, more that there were lots of questions and not enough Gore to go around].  I asked him about his praise of John McCain and his validation of Newt Gingrich.  Here's what he said.

Embracing the same kind of conventional wisdom that lost him the Presidential race and keeps a real solution to the energy crisis from being adopted is a problem.  Gore (and the rest of us) won't be able to deal with climate change if we can't get out of the fossil fuel driven top-down politics we've known our whole life.  Gore has been asking society for a huge change in the way we live our lives, a change that will improve society and bring us unimagined prosperity and a much more socially just framework.  The problem is, he's not willing to make the same change in the way that he sees politics.  He's running his 2000 campaign again.  If he really wanted to do something about climate change, he could start by showing that he is ready to make some changes himself in how he sees the public.

UPDATE:  Dave Roberts at Grist agrees.

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Is anyone .. (0.00 / 0)
ever able to get Gore on record .. how he thinks this can work .. if the Newtster undermines him at every turn .. like supporting the Drill Now nonsense? .. this seems like the same scene over and over ... Republicans don't have anything to lose supporting Gore .. because as shown .. they'll play him .. or anyone like him .. for a sucker every time .. when will the DC politicos ever stop getting played like the chumps they often seem to be

Wish Fulfillment (4.00 / 2)
It's as if he believes that if he says that Newt and McCain are good for the environment enough times, it will become true.

He is undermining the Dem brand (0.00 / 0)
by making it look like batshit crazy conservatives are also right on the issue, he undermines the Democratic advantage.

Imagine if a top Republican ran cheesy ads about how Democrats are just as strong as Republicans when it comes to low taxes, family values, strong military. That person would be called a turncoat by Republican leaders.

[ Parent ]
He actually should follow (part) of his 2000 campaign (0.00 / 0)
Where's 'The people versus the powerful' now?

??? (0.00 / 0)
Netroots Nation moderators wouldn't let me ask Gore a question

First I've heard of this.  Must've been a very well run conspiracy if the Q&A moderator was not even in on it.  

On the substance of this post--agreed.  The Gore team might have made a better choice as to who to put in that chair next to Pelosi if they had read Gingrich's 2005 Winning The Future, in which Gingrich telegraphed his plan to use 'drilling' to turn the debate on energy and environment into a game for scoring points against the Democrats:

Finally, it is time for an honest debate about drilling and producing in places like Alaska, our national forests, and off the coast of scenic areas.  The Left uses scare tactics from a different era to block environmentally sound production of raw materials. (pp. 174-175)

conspiracy (4.00 / 1)
Must've been a very well run conspiracy if the Q&A moderator was not even in on it.

I was just explaining why the video is of such poor quality.  I couldn't get time with Gore at Netroots Nation, there was no way to do that.  At his public session, lots of people wanted to ask questions.  I went up to the moderator, he was rude to me and told me to sit down and he would come over with the microphone.  He ended up never getting over to me.

You did a great job, this was just something that happens at conferences sometimes.

[ Parent ]
For the record (0.00 / 0)
The way that one sentence is phrased in the piece gives the very strong impression that you were not allowed to ask your question specifically because of its content. Otherwise fantastic post!

[ Parent ]
i added an update (4.00 / 1)
Apologies to NN, I didn't want to impugn you guys.  You did great.

[ Parent ]
Glass half empty? (4.00 / 1)
The upside of the ad is that is helps end the viability of global warming denial in the Republican party.  That is a significant shift - at least the debate will acknowledge the problem.

The downside is that it may give Gingrich green credentials.  Gingrich is retired from the House, but has some influence among some people as a pundit.  Many Gingrich fans are global warming deniers, while very few Gingrich opponents will ever give him much credit on the evnironment, no matter how often he appears with Pelosi. That makes it, on balance, an effective blow against the denier base.

It is extremely unlikely that the Democrats will cave on drilling before November, no matter how many mailings pro-oil groups send out.  Because the Republicans' attack is that the Democrats are obstructionist and uncooperative, it appears that Pelosi and the Democrats can gain some advantage against that attack from this ad.

On balance, I don't see the downside of this ad as being particularly significant - I don't think Gingrich can use his slot on Fox News to make the Democrats fold on drilling.  As to Gore - regardless of whether he was sufficiently partisan as a politician - he is no longer running for office.  He seems to be using his new found credibility as a Nobel laureate to further his work for the environment.  It makes sense for him to appear above the day to day political fray, so he can hone his "elder statesman" image.

Apparently it makes people mad if Gore or Pelosi say nice things about Republicans, or appear with them in ads.  It seems to me it is as legitimate a strategy as any other.

Those "We" ads suck (4.00 / 1)
What's really lame is that T. Boone Pickens, a former SwiftBoat financier, is putting out much better and more effective ads on this subject.

If I was a green group, I'd prefer working with Boone over the "We" campaign. It seems like Gore's ads are nothing more than paeans to bipartisanship. Gore should fire half his staff and bring aboard the director of "An Inconvenient Truth" to make him some real ads on the subject.

Anyone who thinks Republicans (aside from T. Boone Pickens) will be part of the solution is a freakin' idiot.

Mixed emotions and thoughts (0.00 / 0)
I understand your complaint and definitely agree that one effect is to promote Republicans.

On the other hand, on the issue of hegemony, this ad clearly achieves the intended effect of getting the general population to agree that global warming is real and dealing with it is very, very important.

In other words, both you and Gore are correct in terms of consequences of an ad campaign like this.

So, given there are pluses and minuses, pros and cons, which is more important?

I think I need to side with Gore on this one.  I can't prove it, but it seems reasonable that the impact on public opinion on global warming is greater than the impact of opinion on Republicans.  The reason is this is only a single issue and Republicans can be attacked on so much more.

thanks, Matt (0.00 / 0)
Matt, thanks for having the guts to ask...I can't decide which sets of commercials are more lame--the "We" ads or the AARP health care gridlock ads...
Both are a serious waste of money!


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