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Apr 07 2013

Look, an Environmentalist Billionaire

In a political system controlled by big money, environmentalists have long had a problem: They simply cannot match the spending of corporations and wealthy individuals with a vested interest in killing their agenda. But now they’ve got a billionaire on their side — and it’s got the Democrats sweating a bit, as Politico points out.

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer is giving Democrats a taste of the divisive, big-spending primary battles that have caused Republicans so much heartburn over the past four years…

The former hedge fund trader-turned-philanthropist is bankrolling a far-flung political operation pushing environmental causes and candidates, including his pricey effort to torpedo the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He’s increasingly drawing scrutiny for trying to take down the Senate candidacy of Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat who has expressed support for Keystone.

Steyer is signaling that his efforts against Lynch are just the beginning of an aggressive political expansion that could target Democrats in other races who go against environmental causes.

“This is about consequences,” Steyer told POLITICO during an interview at Boston’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul, after days of meeting with college students, faith leaders, environmentalists and clean energy executives to map out his role in the Senate campaign. “If you have a pattern of voting for subsidies for oil and gas and voting against renewables and all this other stuff … there have to be consequences. That’s the whole point of this exercise.”

Democratic campaign professionals are worried that Steyer’s money will do what the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other big-spending conservatives have done to the Republican party, which is push candidates further to the left and make it more difficult for them to get elected. And that’s not an unreasonable fear. This will be very interesting to watch in the future.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    nobonobo

    …push candidates further to the left…

    Wait. What? One of us needs more coffee.

  2. 2
    macallan

    … which is push candidates further to the left and make it more difficult for them to get elected.

    Bernie Sanders keeps getting (re)elected, so it’s not entirely hopeless.

  3. 3
    jon1

    “push candidates further to the left”

    you mean “pull candidates away from the right”

  4. 4
    Pierce R. Butler

    How much of the losing tendencies of Democrats “to the left” comes from the opposition of party 1-%er sugar daddies?

    Most Democrats I know find their candidates (and elected officials) too far to the right of their constituents’ positions. Just ask grass-roots party activists about Medicare-for-all, drone wars, wiretaps, Wall Street-coddling, global warming, immigration crackdowns, women’s rights – the list of frustrations on “the left” gets longer every day.

  5. 5
    Artor

    If Democrats were further to the left, I might actually vote for them. I declined to support any of them last election, because my only choices were Republican, and Republican-lite. Give me a real lefty, and I’ll enthusiastically support him or her!

  6. 6
    D. C. Sessions

    As noted above, poll after poll finds that the actual voting populace is not only to the left of their representatives, but left of where their Democratic representatives think that the populace is.

    The groupthink is strong in these ones.

  7. 7
    Akira MacKenzie

    …which is push candidates further to the left and make it more difficult for them to get elected.

    Since the advent of Slick Willie on the national political scene, the Democrats have relied on the following strategy: Run to the left the first campaign, govern from the center-right, then, when seeking re-election, tell the dissatisfied liberals that “THE REPUBLICANS WOULD BE WORSE!!!” counting on fear of a right wing shift to keep the liberals in line. Any mention of a third party is shouted down with reminders of the 2000 election and that Ralph Nader “gave” us Dubbya (and I thought it was the corrupt Supreme Court that Daddy Bush bought him). Meanwhile, outside of a few bones thrown to liberals like Obama lukewarm “evolution” on same-sex marriage, the progressive agenda is not advanced and oil pipelines, kill lists, drone strikes, safety-net slashes, and “indefinite detention” become policy.

    It time for what laughablly passes for a left-wing in America step away from the drum circles and the harmonic convergences and tell the Democrats that we better start seeing some results, or we’ll see just how “worse” a Marco Rubio or a Bobby Jindal in the White House would do.

  8. 8
    slc1

    Re Akira MacKenzie @ #7

    Although I have found it to be a waste of time and energy to argue with people like MacKenzie, who, like the creationists, is immune to evidence but once more into the fray.

    MacKenzie essentially says that the argument that the Rethuglicans would be worse and that we should see how much worse Rubio or Jindal would be is piffle, I have two names to proffer here: John Roberts and Samuel Alito, selected for the Supreme Court because schmucks like MacKenzie voted for Nader in 2000 under the quaint notion that Gore was a DINO. But, I suppose that MacKenzie is perfectly willing to allow Rubio or Jindal to select Ginsburg’s replacement, under the totally moronic notion that Obama’s selection of Sotomayor and Kagan were just as bad.

  9. 9
    marcus

    Akira Mckenzie @ 7
    You’re absolutely correct.
    “…we’ll see just how “worse” a Marco Rubio or a Bobby Jindal in the White House would do.”
    Bush on steroids?
    Sorry, can’t do it, it is just too terrifying to even conceive of.

  10. 10
    dogmeat

    I think there is reason for Democratic strategists to be concerned, but not if implemented intelligently. For example, a right-of-center Democrat here in Arizona, would have a good shot at winning, while a more liberal Democrat (one I would prefer) likely would lose in most districts outside of western Tucson. On the other hand, in many congressional districts in MA, NY, CA, IL, WI, and other more liberal states, there really isn’t any reason for the Democrats to be “Republican-lite.” In some of those states even a senate campaign would be quite successful where others, moving too far to the left could cost democrats seats in the senate (see GOP in NV, DE, etc.).

    The Koch brothers ran into true believers pushing races in states where those candidates were too extreme for the majority population. Lunatic tea-party candidates can work in specific districts, especially the seriously gerrymandered ones we see today, or at state levels in particularly reactionary states, but when they try to promote their ideas in more moderate “purple” states, they lose badly. Same basic concept works on the left. Of course the difference is that the Democrats have to go quite a ways just to get to the left let alone matching the reactionary crazy of the tea party with radical left candidates. Heck, Bernie Sanders is the closest we get to a far left member of congress and he’d have to go 50 shades of Marx to be in the neighborhood of your average tea party wack-a-loon.

  11. 11
    TxSkeptic

    We need way more Steyer’s, not just to threaten primary battles, but to actually have more primary battles. I don’t much but the democratic cry that a more liberal dem can’t get elected, even in someplace like Arizona. First, the GOP are generally such sheeple, you will not get their votes anyway. Even a center right D can’t, unless the R is so far off the rails or dumb as to to lose the mainstream R’s, like Sharon Engle or Christine O’Donnell.
    Most D’s actually run their campaigns reasonable to the left, they just govern too far right. Campaigning farther left, and doing it with confidence and actually making their arguments, would only serve to get the base more excited and motivated to turn out to vote if they actually have a candidate taking positions where the bulk of the party actually exists.
    I think this was part of the excitement of Obama in ’08 and the high turnout. He campaigned like he was more to the left than he has turned out to be, or at least a whole lot of us convinced ourselves that he was farther left. After two years of O governing weakly and slip sliding to the right, the base became disheartened and just didn’t turn out in 2010. That was a HUGE loss as it allowed way too many states to slip back into R hands just when redistricting was coming along. I blame the 2010 loses entirely on Obama, and his running to the right.

  12. 12
    Gregory in Seattle

    Democrats demand that we “hold their feet to the fire” on issues such as LGBT rights and the environment. When we do, they shit their pants.

    This is why I refuse to support ANY political party: it is all about getting and keeping power, and nothing at all about actually living up to their own professed ideals.

  13. 13
    dogmeat

    I think this was part of the excitement of Obama in ’08 and the high turnout. He campaigned like he was more to the left than he has turned out to be, or at least a whole lot of us convinced ourselves that he was farther left. After two years of O governing weakly and slip sliding to the right, the base became disheartened and just didn’t turn out in 2010. That was a HUGE loss as it allowed way too many states to slip back into R hands just when redistricting was coming along. I blame the 2010 loses entirely on Obama, and his running to the right.

    TXSkeptic,

    Personally, the issue is that liberals convinced themselves that Obama was one of their own. While he did shift on some issues, he never really presented himself as a true liberal, but more of a “New Democrat” or, in more precise political terms, something of a Rockefeller Republican. I voted for him in ’08 because of where the Republicans were going, the idiocy of McCain’s stances on economic policy, and the party’s overall attitude towards civil rights and civil liberties much more than I did for Obama or Democrats. Like Gregory, I don’t support any party and I tend to vote for Democrats when the alternative is much much worse.

    I would argue that you’re more than a bit off in your analysis of ’10. While some liberals did stay home because Obama wasn’t one of their own, I think it was much more a matter of motivated Republicans, opposition to Obama that never went away, and frustration with the economy that motivated some moderates to vote for the Republicans. Add to that the normal problems in a mid-term election (see ’78, ’82, ’94, ’06) and it was a recipe for disaster for the Democrats.

    Here in AZ, specifically in what is now AZ CD-2, you’re way, way off on the impact of a Democrat running more to the left. To the west of us we have a large Latino/Democratic population (where Tucson gets its reputation as a liberal city) and Grijalva can say what he wants (actively campaigning against SB1070), here in the other half of the city, the moderate, slightly right-of-center Democrats (Giffords & Barber) have faced strong challenges from lunatic fringe candidates that wouldn’t have had a chance in the primary (and in fact didn’t) just 5 years ago.

    In ’06 Giffords won a narrow election running as a conservative Democrat (part of the Dems winning congress)

    In ’08 she destroyed a moderate Republican who had crushed a couple of lunatic fringe pre-tea bagger candidates in the primary.

    In ’10 she narrowly defeated a true wing-nut in Jesse Kelly, the guy had a “meet Jesse and exercise your God given right to fire an AR-15″ rally during the election cycle. The results were nearly close enough for a recount.

    In the spring of ’12, that same nut beat out two even bigger nuts (the “sane” Republican came in 4th) and lost a very close race to Ron Barber, slightly right-of-center staffer of Giffords who was wounded when she was shot. Now think about that for a second, the lunatic who was running around with an AR-15 during the election in ’10 nearly won a special election after his opponent was shot and others died, and nearly defeated an opponent who was shot in the same incident.

    In the fall of ’12, Kelly lost the primary, not because he was too nuts, but because he wasn’t nuts enough. McSally narrowly lost to Barber in an election that did involve manual recounts and an effort to suppress votes. It was so close, she nearly was able to suppress enough votes to win.

    Your argument is that they need to be more liberal, but I can tell you quite honestly, they were already being portrayed as light-years to the left of Lenin and Stalin. Rational, reasonable, moderate and moderately right-of-center positions were being slammed as radical liberalism.

    In the ’12 general election, Obama lost AZ 54.2% to 44.1%, in ’08 Obama lost 53.4% to 44.9%, the spread was quite similar in both election cycles, each party lost about 100,000 votes from ’08 to ’12. In ’08 and ’12 Arizona sent a majority Democrat delegation to the House, in ’10 the Republicans regained their majority which they are likely to do in ’14 as well. The Republicans keep getting crazier and crazier in these races and they keep getting closer and closer.

    This is not the place to fight the “liberal policies are better policies” battle; we’ll lose. This is not the “sweet spot” to place the lever to shift our country back towards more liberal policies, the fulcrum is elsewhere.

  14. 14
    macallan

    Heck, Bernie Sanders is the closest we get to a far left member of congress and he’d have to go 50 shades of Marx to be in the neighborhood of your average tea party wack-a-loon.

    On the other side of the Atlantic he’d be a middle of the road social democrat.

  15. 15
    d.c.wilson

    I think the fundamental problem is that democrats want to get things done while republicans want ideological purity. Democrats are quick to compromise, accept half a loaf (or a quarter of a loaf), and call it a victory. Republicans only claim a win when they manage to deny the democrats anything at all. That’s how we got to our current state of a affairs. It’s also why the GOP has rewritten history to create the myth that Saint Ron never compromised on anything. With each passing election, the democrats have given up more than they’ve gotten back, forcing them to adopt positions further to the right just to stay in office.

    I’ve always preferred the pendulum metaphor to the “Overton window”. Since the mid-to-late-70s, we’re been in an era where the conservative philosophy (more government is always bad, more privatizing is always good) has been the default position of our political discourse. This was a swing in the pendulum from the era prior to that, when from the Great Depression until Carter’s election, the default position was more liberal. During that period, even the republicans had to adopt position that would get them branded as pinko commies today, such as Eisenhower warning about the military-industrial complex or Nixon creating the EPA.

    I think we’re on the verge of the pendulum swinging back to the left. When you combine the fact that the consequences of climate change are going to be undeniable very soon with the fact that the GOP is now, for the first time in decades, too extreme for the majority of Americans, the shift is inevitable. Twenty years ago, Clinton could never have gotten away with supporting full marriage rights for homosexual couples. Today, Obama has “evolved” toward supporting it. The next democratic candidate will have to give full-throated support for it in order to win the primary.

    The shift is coming. Just not fast enough for many of us.

  16. 16
    Ichthyic

    or we’ll see just how “worse” a Marco Rubio or a Bobby Jindal in the White House would do.

    like W?

    sorry, not willing to sacrifice HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES to make a fucking political point in protest.

    you want change?

    DO IT YOUR GODDAMN SELF.

  17. 17
    Jordan Genso

    Something that I don’t think anyone else has mentioned is that the ideal times when Democratic candidates should run a truly liberal campaign is when:

    A) they are in a very safe Democratic district (already mentioned above)
    B) they are in a very safe Republican district

    If you’re a Democratic candidate that is going to lose regardless of whether you run a center-right campaign or a far-left campaign, then you should ignore the question altogether and instead run a campaign that truly reflects your values. There’s no reason to try and win over a few voters by falsely taking a position in the middle (if your true position is farther to the left), yet by there is a benefit in making a strong case for progressive policies even if a majority of the voters in your district disagree, since every candidate is part of the larger debate.

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