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Environmentalists And The Dean Movement

Keen On Dean: Babbitt, Hawken, And Other Enviros Throw Their Weight Behind Dean

... And imagine what it would mean to have a president who offered real attention not to the high and mighty, but to normal people with normal problems. For environmentalists, it would mean that the natural tendency of people to support a healthy planet for the sake of their children might finally prevail. Poll after poll shows that our fellow citizens consider global warming a serious problem; that we want more wilderness and protected land; that we favor protecting small farmers, not corporate agribusiness giants; that we're sick and tired of acid rain and mercury pollution; that we can't stand the constantly growing epidemic of childhood asthma. We want windmills and solar panels; we want abundant, enduring fisheries and forests. And we want international cooperation to solve the truly global problems like climate change that threaten every town and every business.

This endorsement comes from Bruce Babbitt (the former Secretary of the Interior who I respect for trying to stand up to mining), Paul Hawken, Bill McKibben, and Terry Tempest Williams. What's interesting here is that their endorsement (like the part of me that's pro-Dean) is based on the campaign, not the candidate. Their concern isn't that Dean is personally committed to protecting the environment, that his record or his platform are greener than those of the other candidates. It's that they think Dean's populist movement will give the pro-environment views of citizens more clout.

The Dean movement is an important caution to reading too much into his record as governor of Vermont. As governor, Dean was not the populist we see today. He didn't create the movement, though he's nutured it. The movement -- the blogs, the meetups, the inspiration -- chose Dean sometime in 2002.

But it's still unclear what the role of the movement will be when and if Dean gets into office. Will he turn into a blog and pay attention to the comments? More importantly, will the movement stick with President Dean? Will they be willing and able to mobilize to push for his legislative priorities in the same way they did for his electoral priorities? Will they become disillusioned as a Republican Congress stymies Dean's plans and the president himself engages in pragmatic deal-cutting?

I would hope that after the inauguration, the Dean movement would unhitch itself from Dean and pursue the goals that it sees embodied in Dean, even if doing so puts them in conflict with the president (indeed, I'd hope this even if Dean loses -- and if the movement can survive Dean's death, it becomes less important to elect Dean in order to tap its strength). Come 2008, Dean would have to earn back their support or face a neo-Dean challenger backed by the very movement that he exploited in his first race.


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