The Appearance of Being Earnest: Democrats, Climate Change and Jay Inslee

I looked up the most recent Real Clear Politics aggregate poll (averaging all the polls) for the 2020 Democratic nominees and was shocked and dismayed by what I saw.  I saw that Governor Jay Inslee of Washington was dead last. Behind Gillibrand. Behind Yang and Gabbard. Behind Tom Steyer and John Delaney. And yes, behind the star of The Dark Crystal(s) – Marianne Williamson.  I knew he was not yet at the 2% threshold, but I was not prepared to see that he was listed last, even among those only averaging 0.3%.  So this blog is not a call for donations for Inslee, which I have been doing (and will continue to do so) like it’s my job over the last several months.  This is a plea to the Jay Inslee team to face reality.  Democrats say they care about climate change.  At best they are committed in word, but not deed. But it may just be that Democratic voters are liars. It’s time for you to find out.

In November 2018 a CNN poll revealed that the issue that ranked as most important to Democratic voters was climate change.  82% of respondents listed it as “very important.” Second place, right after it, was health care.  Now I understand that this doesn’t mean that everyone who said it is “very important” means that it is their #1 issue.  But more than any issue, according to Democratic voters, it was recognized as a priority.  So I don’t begrudge Governor Inslee for believing there was a viable candidacy in climate change focus, both because he believes it in his heart as THE priority, and because Democratic voters indicated so in polling data.  But he was wrong.

Now, a friend yesterday showed me 2016 data indicating that climate change was barely a top 10 issue to voters at the time of the Clinton-Trump matchup.  But a few things as to why that data is misleading. One, it included Republicans. Less than 20 percent of Republicans view climate change as a very important issue.  Two, since 2016 there has been even more dire data about climate change as well as a host of epic natural disasters that have heightened the public’s awareness of the “climate crisis” as Kamala Harris Jay Inslee originally dubbed it among the nominees.  So because it is the Democratic nomination I am concerned with, there is literally no reason to consider GOP voters in this discussion.

Democrats/Progressives have a grand tradition of saying the right thing and insisting that someone else do it. Starting with desegregation – the North adopted a strong NIMBY approach. They loved pointing the finger at the South, as well they deserved. The North had the historical benefit and moral authority of fighting slavery in the Civil War, but when it came to desegregating housing (“Chicago could teach Mississippi something about hate,” said MLK Jr when marching to desegregate housing in the Windy City), schools (e.g. Boston) and even windfarms (Ted Kennedy did not like the eyesore of windmills) Democrats have been much better at launching rhetoric against the worse villains, but not adjusting or sacrificing on their own end.  This is not to say that progressives have not made sacrifices or changes, enforced change and done many good things.  But the modern progressive generally excels at things like marriage equality, civil rights legislation, etc. – things that require political will and moral strength, but no real tangible sacrifice unless you are a bigot crippled by prejudice (the same energy that Trump has weaponized – a robot took your job, but it feels more tangible and actionable to your hate if you can blame it on a Mexican). In other words if it doesn’t cost any money and won’t require you to pause Netflix, a majority of Democrats are warriors for justice.

Now the GOP is basically a lost cause at this point, but needless to say I believe they are a lot worse than Democrats on issues of justice, equality and the environment.  But no issue more than climate change and no candidate more than Jay Inslee demonstrate the disconnect between Democrats’ words and deeds.

As a quick recap, Jay Inslee has the best track record and experience of any candidate running for the Democratic nomination. 8 terms in Congress with a great progressive voting record, 2 terms as the governor of Washington and a brief social media campaign of thirst for the strapping, bespectacled man:

  • Lost his first seat in Congress supporting the assault weapons ban of 1994 (and yet the New York Times failed to mention him in an article today about the 1990s battle over assault weapons – but they managed to mention Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper. Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand.  HALF OF THESE PEOPLE WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL WHEN INSLEE WAS SACRIFICING HIS JOB ON THIS EXACT ISSUE AND THE NY TIMES CANNOT EVEN MENTION HIM
  • voted against the Iraq War, the repeal of Glass-Steagall and against the Hyde Amendment
  • As Governor he has pushed through gun control laws, the country’s best clean energy plan, the first public option health plan, the best teacher pay increase in the country, a long term care plan for seniors and has pardoned thousands of non-violent drug offenders while also banning the box. Oh and his state has the #1 GDP in the country, the highest minimum wage and is rated #1 in business AND employee satisfaction.

But above all, Inslee has staked his campaign on an issue he has fought on for 25+ years and that polls say is “very important” to Democratic voters: climate change.  He has a progressive record of accomplishment second to none in the campaign (all due respect to Kamala Harris’ mile wide, inch deep policy knowledge and Elizabeth Warren who was a registered Republican when the 1994 crime bill was passed (just a fact to illustrate the point that not everyone is a “perfect Democrat”… though Inslee is as close as I have ever seen).  Well I am here to tell Governor Inslee that I think he is wrong.

Not wrong that climate change should be the number one issue.  He has issued the best plan and most comprehensive climate plan because it addresses everything from the environment to climate justice to enhancing organized labor and using the USA’s prestige and leverage to move the world along.  But all that has fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes.  Let’s start with everyone’s favorite punching bag: the media.

Other than MSNBC, Inslee has been an afterthought on CNN and in the New York Times.  He was the first to call Trump a “white nationalist,” during the debate ON CNN, and yet a few weeks later he was not even listed on a very crowded graphic of Democrats who had called Trump a white nationalist.  The Times last week had 3 straight days of climate change related articles on the front page and yet in every article about candidates on issues that Inslee is a LEADER on, including climate, he is never mentioned.  That is a fu*king disgrace and disservice.

But the real and deeper problem is Democratic voters.  Jay Inslee will likely make it to the donor threshold by the August 28th deadline to qualify for the September debates, but it will take a miracle for him to get to the polling threshold. And I think, quite simply that Democratic voters don’t really care about climate change. They care about saying they care. It’s what a good Democrat does. You sound better than the GOP, who admittedly seem to want to poison the Earth. You have the same opinion as Leonardo DiCaprio! Tesla and Prius!

Inslee made the ethical and moral decision to campaign on what he actually believes. But if he also believed that Democratic voters were more than talk he should be dissuaded of that opinion now.  He has two options and I think he should do both:

Highlight His Entire Record

I suggested months ago, assuming budget constraints, that Inslee’s team should make a series of YouTube videos – at least 5, where he splices leading candidates talking about their plans, followed by a clip and graphics of Inslee making that policy law as a legislator or governor. His tag should be “Vision to think it. Experience to get it done. Jay Inslee – ready on day 1.” I suggested he go after Warren during debate 1 with this backhanded compliment technique. He chose to make it generic of “plans vs accomplishments,” which was good, but not good enough. I still think his digital team should make these videos ASAP.  They would be cheap, insightful, informative and headline grabbing.  What is the defense to an “attack” of “I like your idea. I already did it”? There is none. And when just trying to get to 2% it is inexcusable to not be audacious.

Call the Democrats to Action

Jay Inslee strikes me as a truly good man. But also a man who could beat the sh*t out of Donald Trump’s Type II ass if he creeped behind him during a debate.  And it is time for that combination to be turned on the Democratic electorate.  I am not optimistic about Inslee qualifying for the September debates.  I have given him more money than my Manhattan rent so don’t take this as a retreat.  It is a strategic shift.  He should be planning on the October debates (and if September happens then that is a bonus) and on top of the guerilla digital approach he must deliver an address to galvanize the real progressive spirit in all Democrat voters.  I wrote in early July a speech that I thought tapped into this. Obviously it was not used or adopted, but THIS IS IT if you want to read it.  Right now I feel like the Inslee campaign is being run like Shiny Happy People:


But it needs to be a more desperate version of JFK’s plea of asking “what can you do for your country?”  I suggest months ago a possible large speech – bill it to the media as a major address.  Do it in your home state if you need to, in order to guarantee a larger crowd.  And make the theme that it is time to call all Democrats to re-capture the spirit of JFK.  In the speech I wrote I make the connections to the great things Democrats and progressives have done but also link climate change inaction (or mere words of support) to issues like affordable housing, windmills, etc that Democrats have often NIMBY’d (Not In My Backyard).  I would title the speech “The Time of NIMBY Progressivism Has To End Now.”  Climate change is the big issue, but unless Inslee can inform more voters of his second-to-none record of accomplishments ACROSS THE BOARD and how climate change is the chance at redemption for a party that, while driving change, has often slow-walked change in their own world, all while talking a good game against Republicans and their sins.  Governor Inslee is at the cross roads of no time left for the planet and nothing left to lose in his campaign. It is the time for bold action – he is asking the country to take bold action and he is right. It is time for his campaign to do the same damn thing.