The Ides of March

Climate ambition should be made of sterner stuff


On the ides of March, 44 B.C., the populist dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman Senate, stabbed to death by dozens of conspirators led by Cassius and Brutus, leading to civil wars that culminated with the formation of the Roman Empire.

We have not reached that point in American history. In 1852, abolitionist Charles Sumner was brutally beaten on the Senate floor by a pro-slavery Democrat, preceding the Civil War, and in 2020, Trump supporters stormed the Senate floor in an attempt to overthrow the government. Although multiple presidents have been assassinated, none have been done so by their fellow government officials.

Plutarch wrote that Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to beware the ides of March, famously dramatized by William Shakespeare. In the play, Caesar laughs off the warnings.

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

So, a portentous opening for today’s newsletter! But I find it salubrious to remember the stakes of politics are high and the pursuit of justice worthy, even as the daily events are petty, bureaucratic, wearisome, and absurd.

Influential Democratic operatives Faiz Shakir and Sarah Miller write in Democracy Journal about the “ongoing battle for the soul of the party”:

On paper, Democrats offer much-needed policy prescriptions to tackle soaring drug prices, remediate the existential threats of climate change, and demand greater taxation of the wealthy and enforcement against tax cheats. In rhetoric and political action, though, Democrats have not animated those policies with corresponding fights against the corporate lobbyists and special interests who stand in their way. Whereas FDR proclaimed of his opponents, “I welcome their hatred,” the modern Democratic Party seems to intone, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Shakir and Miller recognize that working people “hold the Democratic Party to a higher standard because it is supposed to be the party that stands with labor and holds corporations accountable.”

Key for climate hawks:

Wanting facts is important; but all too often, the rhetoric of “believing in science” or “listening to the economists” or deference to bureaucracy is code for deferring value-based judgment and leadership. It is a desire to be perceived as neutral or “fair-minded” that many voters see as weakness.

Two-fifths of the House Democrats (89 of 222), working with the Climate Action Campaign coalition,1 have launched the #ClimateRestart campaign to call on the White House to make another push for climate legislation.

The campaign is built around a letter to President Joe Biden authored by junior Democrats—Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.)—asking the president to “restart negotiations with climate action,” specifically the $555 billion in investments and tax credits that were in the Build Back Better Act. The letter, while noting the urgency of climate action, does not indicate with whom these negotiations should take place.

Casten is in a primary fight with fellow letter-signatory Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), after their districts were combined—Newman, like Squad member Bowman, supports the Green New Deal, while Casten does not. Williams, who was elected to John Lewis’s seat after he passed away in 2020, is also a Green New Dealer.

Strangely, Rep. Kathy Castor’s (D-Fla.) Select Committee on the Climate Crisis presented this campaign with the claim that “Democrats are united behind passing historic climate investments,” which again raises the question about why negotiations are needed.

I heard a bustling rumour, like a fray,

And the wind brings it from the Capitol.

Evergreen Action, the group which helped design the Build Back Better climate provisions, is making a simultaneous inside-the-Beltway climate push that targets Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), calling out his rhetoric of promising “strong, decisive action” on the climate crisis without anything to show for it.

Like Castor, Evergreen Action is making a bizarre claim of Democratic unity on climate action: “all 50 Senate Democrats are ready to strike a deal.” They’re even claiming Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) “supports spending on climate” and is “at the table and ready to strike a deal to pass a major climate investment bill.”

I get it—I don’t have any great answers either to resolve the conundrum that the Democratic Party majority in Congress is not unified for climate justice, but is in reality a fractious coalition of progressives, corporatists, and outright fossil-fuel-industry shills, and thus unable to overcome the Republican Party’s unified opposition to even business-friendly attempts to slow the burning down of civilization.

I do think, though, that the only path to success is for climate hawks to be honest.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus, and we petty men

Walk under his huge legs and peep about

To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Climate Action Today:

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1. Evergreen Action, EDF, Rewiring America, Wilderness Society, Sunrise Movement, NRDC, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Environment America, U.S. PIRG, and EarthJustice

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