POLITICS

Did greens suffer because they confused conservatism with fealty to business?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

When conservatives resist government intervention, almost always a Democratic politician or liberal commentator chalks it up to “industry lobbyists” and Republican coziness with big business lobbyists.

Of course, Republicans are far too cozy with big-business lobbyists, but that coziness is just as likely to manifest itself in support for government intervention — see TARP, Medicare Part D, Export-Import Bank, ethanol subsidies, the sugar program, et cetera.

Many in the media have long bought into this liberal line that the GOP is the party of big business, and countless news stories are based on that template. An environmental debate is cast as the Sierra Club and Democrats against Exxon and Republicans. Omitted from this story is that Duke Energy, GE, and DuPont are all on the Dems’ side, too.

This myth hurts Republicans because it creates skepticism around their policy stances. It helps liberals and their corporate allies, because it allows their profit motives to go undetected.

But, it turns out, it also hurts environmentalists, because they believe that all they need to do in order to win over Republicans is get some rent-seeking corporations on board with their project.

At least that’s the lesson I take from Theda Skocpol’s account of how climate legislation has failed.

Some telling excerpts from her interview with the Washington Post’s Brad Plumer:

Brad Plumer: You spend a lot of time dissecting the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the big collaboration between greens and businesses to push for a cap-and-trade bill that could win support from Republicans. It wasn’t a crazy strategy—cap-and-trade had picked up a fair bit of bipartisan support between 2003 and 2007. So why did it ultimately fail?

Theda Skocpol: The whole USCAP strategy was based on this very reasonable idea that you’d get Republicans in Congress to go along with Democrats. But by the time we get to 2009, Republicans just weren’t going to be there. And I don’t think environmentalists were able to see the shifting ground at the time….

BP: So around 2007, Republicans were becoming more skeptical of climate policy. Yet the main climate strategy in D.C. was to craft a complex cap-and-trade bill amenable to businesses like BP and DuPont in the hopes that those companies would bring in Republican votes.

TS: I think a lot of environmental groups were under the impression that the Republican Party is a creature of business, and that if you can make business allies, you can get Republicans to do something. But I don’t think the Republican Party right now is mainly influenced by business. In the House in particular, ideological groups and grassroots pressure are much more influential. And in the research we’ve done, the two big issues that really revved up primary voters were immigration and the EPA.

Skocpol is correct when she says ideological groups and grassroots pressure often pull the GOP away from business. Business often wins the party’s heart, but not always.

Most of the media has been slow in understanding this dynamic, clinging instead to their old templates. A NY Times article today, however explores it. I’ll write more on this later, but here’s the money graph:

Big business, many Republicans believe, is often complicit with big government on taxes, spending and even regulations, to protect industry tax breaks and subsidies — “corporate welfare,” in their view.

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