26 April 2010

An Order of Green Tea

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, was peddling a vision of a "Green Tea Party" over the weekend. He envisions this entity as a closer metaphorical equivalent of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, dumping foreign oil instead of British tea. His GTPs wouldn't literally toss barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other obnoxious exporters into the ocean. But they would, to an extent, honor the original Tea Partiers' ideal of non-consumption by demanding a $10/barrel "Patriot Fee" on imported oil. While the proceeds would go toward paying off the national debt, the assumed drop in oil imports would spur the development of those green technologies Friedman has often urged on us.

The columnist concedes immediately that today's actually existing Tea Partiers would never go for an import tax on oil. He blames this on their "hard libertarian right" bias, and if he's right, it also shows us an important difference between 21st century TPs and their supposed role models. The resistance to British mercantile policies often took the form of non-importation and non-consumption. It involved a degree of self-denial and a spirit of modesty (as opposed to ostentation, that is) to which today's TPs may pay lip service without necessarily walking the revolutionary walk. Tea Partiers are supposedly prepared to go without certain government programs in order to close budget deficits, but I doubt they expect to feel hardship from their supposed sacrifice, since they probably don't see themselves benefiting from the programs they'd cut. As self-styled entrepreneurs and Reaganite optimists, the generic Tea Partiers more likely still expect to have it all after having been held back by the tax-fueled regulatory state. They probably expect to tell other people to tighten their belts, not do so themselves.

Friedman's pessimism about the Tea Partiers leads him to look again to his hoped-for new party of the "radical center." Judge the prospects of such a movement for yourselves after reading Friedman exhort his radical-center GTPs to support an emissions-control bill sponsored by Lindsay Graham, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman:

The reason a Green Tea Party should coalesce to support this bill ... is because it will set a price on carbon pollution and help foster commercialization of clean technologies — like hybrids, batteries and solar — at sufficient scale to enable the U.S. to rapidly ramp up when the seriousness of climate change becomes inescapably obvious to all.

A rabble-rouser Friedman isn't, nor does he want to be one. But if he wants to call into being a Green Tea party that "that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits," he's going to have to do better than that. The idea may be sound, but it doesn't sound like anything likely to inspire passion. Maybe if he went on the radio and translated all of the above into "JOBS NOW!!!" it might make an impression. The only way it will, I suspect, is if he puts the horse of job creation before the cart of emissions-reduction and long-term green-industry growth. Friedman may hope that a radical center would be sufficiently aroused by calmly reasoned arguments, but I'm not sure it can be that radical and that reasonable at the same time. However, Friedman may have provided some useful raw material for real radicals to exploit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He also needs to come up with something marketable, rather than "Green Tea Party", which is almost clever, but not marketable.

He needs to get rid of "green", which won't sell to certain groups because of it's "hippie" reference. He needs to get rid of "tea", because coffee is the preferred non-alcoholic drink, not tea and "tea party" has too many fringe/racist/right-wing/fundamentalist connotations. And finally, he needs to get rid of party because, seriously - if we're to fix the problems now facing the country, "party" is the last thing we should be thinking about and "party" (in political-speak) sounds like you don't want to end partisanship, you just want to throw more ingredients into the mix.