“The political system pushes the parties toward the middle,” “party homogeneity is rather weak” … in Germany’s antiquated libraries, students might pick up these messages from text books about the U.S. political system. We all know that today’s reality is a different one. Over the last twenty-five years or so, the U.S. electorate has drifted further and further apart. The election of Ronald Reagan marks the beginning of the U.S. drift to the right in the 1980s. The two Bush presidents and even Bill Clinton—“it’s the economy, stupid!”—continued Reagan’s doctrine of the supremacy of a preferably untamed capitalism. The chimera of “the invisible hand of the market” has become an imperative of all political action, and arguably hit the “soft issue” of environmental protection even more than others. The U.S., once an environmental leader—the country with the first national environment plan, the birthplace of the idea of national parks, the place of departure for the global spread of the green movement in early 1970s—became the epitome of subordinating environmental protection under economic priorities.
To be sure, the U.S. in the mid-1980s became a leader in brokering a global treaty for the protection of the ozone layer—after Dupont had claimed the patents for the substitutes of ozone-depleting substances. When TIME magazine chose “Endangered Earth” as Person of the Year 1988, Bush Senior began referring to himself as the environmental president—albeit with limited credibility, the 1990 reform of the Clean Air Act notwithstanding. Clinton chose the greenest senator of all times, Earth in the Balance author Al Gore, as his vice president, but his sublime green agenda for the most part collapsed already in the first few years.
Later on, he signed the Kyoto Protocol but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification because its defeat on the Hill was certain. Then Congress shifted toward a more pro-active stand on climate and green energy in the beginning of this century—mostly because even a Republican majority considered Bush Junior too much of a market radical.
Contract with America: Let ‘em Pollute! Please read my essay for Transatlantic Perspectives here.