For the last three years, at around this time of year, I've made an effort to recognize and blog about a public figure who, despite the odds, managed to break through the craptastical quantities of horseshit we hear every day to speak strongly, fearlessly and precisely about the realities of our national situation. The qualifications to become a Voice of Reality are simple. 1) A Voice of Reality must speak about controversial issues, 2) a Voice of Reality must never backpedal, and finally, 3) a Voice of Reality be firmly grounded in the reality-based community... of course. I began this annual tradition on my old blog (which I don't update anymore) and now, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to continue that tradition here.
In 2004, the honor went to Richard Clarke for being the first former White House official to apologize for 9/11 and speak out about the administration's failure to prevent the attack. In 2005, it was Keith Olbermann for, among other things, being the only reporter to cover the irregularities of the 2004 election; for standing his ground against his corporate bosses; for taking on Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh; and for delivering what was a truly historic special comment about the Katrina disaster.
This year's Voice of Reality is former Vice President Al Gore for An Inconvenient Truth and for elevating the urgency of global warming to a position close -- close -- to where it should be on our collective national roster of vital issues.
Two nights ago, I bought the DVD of Mr. Gore's documentary. You know, for the hilarious bonus feature outtakes in which Burgess Meredith says, "Look's like Chuck's taking a ride on the wild baloney pony." That was awesome. No wait. Never mind. There aren't any outtakes on the DVD, although the producers could've put together a wickedly funny montage of Senator Inhofe clips. Global warming is "a hoax," Inhofe says. Ha! Not as funny as Chuck riding the baloney pony but it's definitely way up there. Seriously though, while watching An Inconvenient Truth again last night, the documentary carried more weight and was exponentially more powerful (apart from the fact that it was 65°F yesterday -- in Pennsylvania) than it was when I first watched it in theaters.
And here's why. During the 2006 elections, the global warming issue was almost entirely ignored in the national discourse. Of course, ending the Iraq War was, and deservedly so, the issue. But despite it's actual degree of national and global urgency, I can't remember a single congressional debate or campaign commercial or pundit roundtable in which global warming held the position of importance it requires. For most of the Summer, Iraq aside, global warming seemed poised to become, for the first time ever, a major campaign issue due in large part to Mr. Gore's documentary as well as, you know, the melt-your-dog's-brain heat. Yet as soon as Labor Day rolled around and the campaign season kicked into high gear, it vanished from the traditional media headlines and political stump speeches.
The candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, all but ignored Mr. Gore's historic theatrical warnings at their own peril -- peril, not just because this issue impacts all of humanity, but also peril in terms of votes.
Shortly after the election, Zogby released a poll which received very little attention but ought to be required reading for every candidate and pundit as we careen towards 2008:
...a solid majority (58%) of voters agreed their elected officials "should make combating global warming a high priority." Three-quarters (75%) of Americans who voted in the mid-term elections say the "U.S. Congress should pass legislation promoting renewable and alternative energy sources as an effective way to reduce global warming pollution."
Global warming may have contributed to the erosion of support for Republicans among religious voters - 50 percent of Catholics identified global warming as important in their 2006 vote.
"Solid majority"? Religious voters abandoned the GOP partly over global warming? 75-percent of voters want global warming legislation? Comparatively, "only" 54 percent of Americans want the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq (CNN poll here. Note the photo of the president's creepy black eyeballs). Imagine if the candidates had capitalized on the voter enthusiasm for global warming legislation and said just a little more about the issue in their literature and commercials. Global warming, given a little more attention, could very well have meant the difference between winning and losing. More importantly, however, the numbers tell us that Americans gave the new Congress more than just a mandate to end the war, but also a mandate to end global warming. And much of the credit for this level of voter awareness and concern has to be given to Mr. Gore. And it goes without saying, the poll numbers seem to indicate that if Al Gore were to run for president on this issue, he'd win.
Meanwhile, as we near the beginning of January and the 110th Congress, what about adding the following to Speaker Pelosi's list:
1) A comprehensive carbon emissions tax on industry.
2) Renewed and increased tax breaks for hybrid vehicle purchases.
3) Real tax incentives for green technology investment.
4) And here's a wild idea I just thought of: free low wattage fluorescent light bulbs for every low income and elderly American. In other words, a 100 percent tax refund for every low wattage light bulb purchased. Call it the Affordable Electricity Act. Low income households and senior citizens would save on their electricity bills and get their bulbs for free while we reduce carbon emissions.
It doesn't take much from the government to make a real difference. So who among the 110th will listen Mr. Gore and take the lead next year? More importantly, who will give global warming the campaign trail props it deserves? Put it this way, potential 2008 candidates, you'll win if you do. And ultimately, we'll all win if you do.