The Republicans are a party in crisis. Having lost the election, they’re now wracked with internal strife and prospects for a turnaround in the near term appear dim. The reasons for this decline are primarily demographic: their values, platform, and policies are now dangerously out of sync with the mainstream, and diverging further every year. Exploring this divergence could fill an article of its own, but it’s best summed up by the Republican party’s recent “autopsy” of their 2012 election failures which concluded the party is simply “too old, too white.”
Faced with these demographic challenges, Republicans understandably fear they’ll be marginalized and irrelevant within a generation. They’re in need of a renaissance, a new narrative that draws attention away from their current controversies over “legitimate rape”, and funding cuts for social programs. Building this narrative requires a bridge issue, one that appeals to broad new audiences without compromising the party’s core values.
That issue is climate change.
Whoa! How could climate change possibly be a Republican issue? After all, isn’t it counter to the interests of Big Business, and don’t dozens of Republican congressmen openly deny the science behind it? How can climate change possibly become the issue that saves the party?
Let’s begin with a truism about politics:perception is reality. Perception matters more than policy, and political packaging is one of the Republican party’s core strengths. Consider their success establishing narratives like “lower taxes grow the economy” and “immigrants are stealing American jobs.” While each of these is empirically false, a combination of intuitive packaging and endless repetition have forged them in to cultural truisms. Republicans’ current branding of climate change includes phrases like “job-killing” and “left-wing conspiracy,” which has, over the years, turned their base squarely against the issue. But if they change that branding, perceptions from the base and the public at large will change with it. So let’s begin!
Climate change threatens our freedom!
What? That’s stupid. But wait: if you’re a rancher or a farmer in the American West, your freedom is enormously constrained by the horrific drought of the last two years. You don’t get to choose what you’re going to plant, or what cows you’re going to slaughter. Your freedom to make a livelihood in your chosen profession is under serious threat. And at the other end, shoppers are losing freedom of choice at the supermarket, as climate change destroys certain crops and makes meat unaffordable.
God commands it!
Right out of the gate in Genesis, the Bible states “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it,” a responsibility we violate as we continue to pollute our air and water. Furthermore, addressing climate change fulfills the Christian’s commitment to aid the poor (whom climate change hits disproportionately). Across the country, religious leaders are beginning to understand climate change in its moral context and seeing it as an opportunity to apply their creed in the real world.
Our national security depends on it!
It’s telling that despite our numerous active military conflicts and warnings of thermonuclear annihilation from North Korea, America’s generals and intelligence agencies continue to identify climate change as our top threat. It’s no coincidence that the countries American forces are engaged in are some of those hit hardest by climate change! Climate change makes basic resources like food and water scarce, which in turn breeds unrest and radicalism…things that never turn out well for America. Admittedly, addressing this new kind of national security threat takes a major shift in thinking. Once we accept that we can’t kill our way out of resource shortages, we’ll realize our national security dollars are better spent on efforts like developing renewable energy and educating women in the third world.
And what are the rewards for pursuing this strategic rebranding? First, Republicans would win their most prized demographics: non-whites, the young, and the poor. Second, flanked from the left, Democrats would be made to look out-of-touch and the party of the establishment. Finally, as climate change sheds its partisan taint, bills to address it will begin sailing through Congress, government will begin working again in the eyes of the people, and Republicans will get all the credit. Refocusing the party on climate change is akin to hitting the reset button: in one logically consistent move, Republicans would halt their decline and be revitalized, while preserving their core values.
Now before we get too enthusiastic about the idea of a Republican embrace of climate change, let’s be honest with ourselves: it would never happen. While resistance to massive change is to be expected, the biggest reason the GOP will not pursue this strategy is that they rely on campaign contributions from Big Oil to get elected. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Yet if there were anyone who could transcend this paradigm, it’s Chris Christie. Who better to pursue this issue than the governor of a state wrecked by Hurricane Sandy? While he might be persona non grata with party leaders at the moment, he is still highly respected by the rank and file as the rarest of birds: someone who puts his constituents ahead of politics.
Climate change is the issue of our time. Today’s arguments about its science and legislation will be replaced with tomorrow’s responses to food riots and accommodating climate refugees. Yet the grimness of climate change is matched by its political opportunity — the opportunity to command an issue that will dominate human culture for generations. For their continued relevance in American politics, for the health of a democracy that needs diverse opinions to thrive, and for the sake of humanity’s future, let us hope the Republicans are the ones to embrace this opportunity.