U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked a good question last month. He wanted to know, "What is the environmental platform of the Republican Party?" Graham said he doesn't know and suggested that it's time for his party to do some "soul searching."
Graham is right to suggest some soul searching, but I'm surprised he doesn't know the party's platform. The Republican leaders in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner, have consistently said "no" to or fought against anything that qualifies as an environmental policy. During the first two terms of his speakership, Boehner led House Republicans in more than 500 anti-environment floor votes. McConnell's first 100 days as Senate Majority Leader have been marked by a strict adherence to the big-polluter agenda, which has included saying "no" to the Environmental Protection Agency reducing carbon pollution, and saying "no" to keeping dirty tar-sands oil in the ground.
"No" is a pretty flimsy platform, and Graham is right to think his party needs something stronger.
The Republican Soul
If Graham and his colleagues do embark on some true soul searching, what are they likely to find? To get some ideas, I went straight to the source: the website of the Republican Party itself.
The Republican Party describes itself in six bullet points on the history section of its website, GOP.com. Here's how I believe these core facets of the GOP identity fit with political efforts to address climate change.
- Grand New Party. The Republican Party was founded by abolitionists. The party didn't shy away from a tough fight then, and there's no reason that the party can't take on one of today's most critical problems: climate change.
Party of the Future?
Will the Republicans embrace climate action in order to stay relevant? In his final post for Grist, David Roberts argued that the party is already pivoting away from denial, but instead of pivoting toward solutions, they are pivoting toward Chicken Little economic arguments, saying that the cost of addressing climate change is too high. Those hyperbolic, sky-is-falling cost arguments are staples of the dirty-energy industry, which is looking to protect its own bottom line, but they have no place in a party platform that proclaims a commitment to vision, strength, and the future.
If the Republicans want to protect their worthy legacy and be the party of the future, it's time to follow Lindsay Graham's advice to do some soul searching and start acting on climate change.