Where's Ralph?

By Anthony York

By Salon Staff
Published April 19, 2001 8:00AM (EDT)

Read the story.

Anthony York is right when he notes that President Bush has moved with alarming speed to undo 30 years of environmental progress. But York errs when he contends that the environmental movement is in disarray and that environmentalists have let Bush's moves go unanswered.

As early as Jan. 3, the Sierra Club ran a newspaper advertisement in the Washington Post and USA Today setting forth what President Bush needed to do to protect our environment. And whenever Bush has deviated from this path, the Sierra Club and other groups have taken him to task.

Though the coalition of environmental groups that opposed Gale Norton as secretary of the interior did not block her confirmation, our pressure led more senators to vote against Norton than against former Secretary James Watt, putting her and the Bush administration on notice and raising awareness of environmental issues across the nation.

Since then we've run a slew of ads in print and on television and radio, held successful grass-roots lobbying events on Capitol Hill and stood with allies like the AFL-CIO and the NAACP to draw attention to Bush's poor environmental choices. In March alone, over 100 Sierra Club volunteers flew to Washington to lobby their members of Congress to protect our national forests and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and to reject President Bush's anti-environmental assaults. You couldn't look a single one of them in the eye and claim the grass roots are dead.

Recent opinion surveys show that our efforts have been far more effective than York would lead readers to believe: Though a bare majority still approve of Bush's overall performance, strong majorities disapprove of his reversal on global warming, his cave-in on arsenic standards and his push to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Indeed, the president is getting poorer marks from the American people for his environmental performance than on any other aspect of his job to date. More proof comes in President Bush's recent pre-Earth Day attempts to "resurrect his image" on the environment, as Dan Rather put it. The Bush administration clearly recognizes that the environmental movement has succeeded in rallying Americans against the president's anti-environmental attacks.

-- Carl Pope, executive director, Sierra Club

Maybe Nader isn't saying much about the Bush enviro-rollback, but that didn't stop Anthony York from quoting U.S. PIRG on the subject. The PIRGs, you might remember, were founded by Ralph. At the University of Illinois he said of Bush's record, "Let them drink arsenic. He's the new Marie Antoinette."

Quiet Ralph, you're ruining York's argument.

-- Matthew Conover

As someone who supported Ralph Nader in last year's election, I am dismayed by his silence on Bush's swift destruction of environmental policies, and his disappearance from politics in general. Gore's silence doesn't surprise me, as it's right in line with the rest of his self-serving behavior. But Nader has disappointed those who went out on a limb and voted for him. Couldn't he at least hold a weekly press conference or something? The Nader Web site has not been updated since November, as if nothing has happened politically since then.

But I want to point out a contradiction in Anthony York's article: York reports that Nader is silent on Bush's attack on the environment, but he quotes Nader as saying that the real problem continues to be the corporate corruption of politics. Nader is right, and the rest of York's article proves him right, as it outlines how environmental groups lack the funds to compete with corporate interests, like those who own and control Bush. But York won't give Nader credit for having his focus on the bigger picture, the real reason Bush destroys the environment (to do the bidding of his corporate masters). Nader does seem to have his eyes on the big picture, but we need him down here on the ground, too, calling Bush on his despicable actions. Gore's loss revealed a profound split in the left, a split between progressives and those who can still manage to justify the horrendous compromises of the New Democrats. Until the left works to heal this rift, we don't stand a chance against Bush and the corporations.

-- Louie Simon

Perhaps you forget why Ralph Nader isn't doing all that much to oppose Bush's environmental policies: He wanted Bush to win, and he wanted things to get worse. It's the Greens' strategy: Let everything get so bad that voters have no one else to trust but the Greens. This theory is bound to fall flat, as the Greens can't seem to get their shit together. The hippie Green candidate in my district (Oregon's 2nd) was recently arrested for shoplifting. Ralph Nader is silently rooting for poison in your water. Go ahead Greens, laugh it up. In 2004, the .01 percent of the popular vote you take will be worth it to all the centrists and center-leftists who were alienated by your intellectually fascist dogma. Fascist? Yes, only recognizing one point of view and refusing to compromise is certainly fascist. Let's hear it for Nader/Buchanan in 2004!

-- Abbey Castle

The reason the environmental issue is a hollow issue for Democrats is that, while the party's national candidates may feel the need to occasionally express some environmentally correct thoughts in order to keep their electoral bases, the party will always follow its pocket, which is stuffed with environmental polluters' cash. For eight years we had Democratic control of the government -- eight years of continued environmental destruction. Were there any bold new initiatives offered when I wasn't looking? The Kyoto accord, a lukewarm and halfhearted response to global warming (I mean, really, if CO2 is a such a huge problem and is going to cause the world temperature to rise, does it really matter if we reduce CO2 production by 5 or 10 percent over the next 15 years? One additional year's production would put us where we would have been without any reduction!), was opposed by almost every senator, Democratic and Republican. The Clinton team did all it could to scuttle its most important provisions in the meetings last year.

Anthony York might not think so, but I hope that the public is finally catching on that the Democratic Party is not different from the Republican Party in any significant way other than rhetoric, that corporate Al and corporate W. are two sides of the same coin. W. is simply doing what "Occidental" Al would have been doing in his place, except that Al would do it with a great show of rationalization and "my hands are tied" baloney. I actually appreciate the fact that W. is at least honest about what he wants to accomplish ... I haven't had honesty from the president in eight years. I also hope that the public is catching on to the fact that the Sierra Clubs of the world, which have been enjoying a free ride in Bill's pockets for the last eight years, are totally stymied by a man who calls their bluff.

If you care about green, vote Green!

-- Afshin Rouhani

After attacking Ralph Nader's "mantra" that the Democrats are a bunch of goons for the same corporations as the Republicans are, you then proceed to prove his point by describing what Al Gore has been up to lately -- "mending fences," kissing up, being the wimp we always knew he was. Somebody predicts, predictably, that Al will speak up eventually. Didn't he always say things yet do nothing? Though lamentably inept in choosing his priorities, Ralph is -- and was -- right about the Democrats.

-- Elizabeth Ely

I just read this article and I think that York is wrong about Al Gore. The article states (rightly so) that Bush is trying to destroy the environment at an astronomically alarming rate. I agree with that. It also states that it's all Ralph Nader's fault and now that Ralph has put Bush in the White House all that pussy cares about is further destroying the Democratic Party in an attempt to continue to boost his low self-esteem. Also true. What I disagree with is people who say Al Gore should be publicly commenting on Bush's lack of vision when it comes to his Earth-killing policies. That's where I disagree.

After Gore won the election people kept crying, "Why won't he just concede? Why won't he just go away?" If Al Gore were to publicly comment on Bush's mistakes people would just say, "God, he lost the election and he still won't go away!" Why should Al waste his time and become frustrated even further?

I think Al Gore is doing the right thing by staying out of the public eye. If Al came public it would be a lose-lose situation for him. After all, he was public for decades and what good did it do him? I think Al should keep doing whatever it is he's doing, since with a Republican president, House, Senate and Supreme Court, there's nothing that can be done anyway. We're going to have to let Bush continue to destroy the environment until the 2002 congressional election. Until then, Ralph "The Spoiler" Nader exclusively should be blamed for this mess, not Al Gore.

-- Mark McKelvey

Salon Staff

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