“A threat to your children.”
Where did that quote come from? To what does it refer?
Was it spoken by George W. Bush on the subject of terrorists? Or was it how Al Gore described global warming?
“It is not a question of left vs. right; it is a question of right vs. wrong.”
How about that one? Was it said in reference to doing anything necessary to win the war on terror or to save the planet?
“I worry about it, because I don’t want to die.”
Those words were attributed to a nine-year-old who had heard one of the two messages: was she terrified of al Qaeda or sweeping climate changes?
My friend Carly, of “Ellipsis…Suddenly Carly” is one of my longest-running readers. Carly has stuck with me — at times put up with me — from the earliest days of the original version of this journal over at AOL. She may not have been my very first reader, but she was definitely one of my first five. And she’s probably one of only about two of those first five who are still reading today.
After I wrote the post entitled, “Top Priority,” about Al Gore’s refusal to endorse any presidential candidate who didn’t place global warming as the number one campaign issue, she began her comment with this:
“With all due respect, I am not sure I understand your outrage here.”
When I read that sentence, I stopped for a minute. I chuckled. Outrage? Was I really outraged? At least, I didn’t think so at the time.
Then I thought more about it.
The nice thing about having a reader stay with you so long, even when you often find yourself at opposite sides of an issue, is that they come to understand how you think. Maybe, just maybe, I began to realize, Carly saw a level of anger that I hadn’t realized I had. If that’s true, then the least I can do is to figure out why I’m so angry about Gore’s statement.
I don’t doubt the existence of global warming. I think it is a legitimate phenomena, and I think there is plenty of evidence to prove that we humans have not taken good care of the planet, and that our boneheaded decisions are causing lots of damage to plants and animals alike. Eventually, I am convinced, Mother Nature will decide she has had enough of us.
Apparently, many years ago, the dinosaurs did something to royally piss her off. And she got even. Boy, did she get even! At the end, she was the one left standing.
And just like what happened to the dinosaurs, when we get her riled up enough, she’ll come along and clean house again. The way your mom threatens to do when you refuse to straighten up your room. You know, no matter what she does, you won’t like the way she’ll do it.
So if I believe all of that, why aren’t I applauding Al Gore’s courageous stance?
Because it isn’t courageous. It’s cowardly. He is taking the easy way out, choosing to resort to the same tactics his followers routinely condemn the conservatives for: fear-mongering: Global warming is going to hurt your children if we don’t do something right now. Why, Gore and Bush could almost exchange quotations and still be delivering the same message!
Gore said that many of the candidates had good things to say about global warming. But he gave up the opportunity to highlight who was saying what. He gave up the opportunity to go case by case, to talk about the people who recognize the dangers to the environment, to show what some actually are willing to do, to prove that some are willing to say something of consequence and take action.
He gave up those opportunities so that he could draw his line in the sand. It’s either his way, or no way.
“You’re either with us, or you’re against us.”
He did not say that; we all know where that little pearl came from. But Gore might as well have, since he couldn’t bother to lend any real praise to anyone who is at least willing to acknowledge the importance of the message.
What’s worse, he (and his cause) may have lost serious points with those middle-of-the-road voters who are just coming to realize that there might be something to this global warming talk, after all. For each of them who may have just started to come around, his extremist, “top priority” demand may have been just the trick to have them shake their heads and stop thinking about it. For every person who disengaged from the discussion because they thought Gore was being unreasonable or going overboard, it was a missed opportunity to keep the discussion moving forward.
And if fighting the threat of global warming is that important, then we can’t afford those missed opportunities. We need everyone on board, in agreement, and ready to do their part.
Let me give you another example of what I’m talking about. Back in February, a dear friend of mine wrote a column for her neighborhood newspaper about Black History Month.
It was actually a column reminding people that it was Black History Month, despite what they might be led to believe by watching the news media’s constant coverage of the blond celebrity du jour. She complained that there was so much attention focused on the Brittneys and Parises and Lindsays that there was nothing to indicate that February was the month set aside to honor the cultural contributions blacks have made to our nation.
A perfectly valid point. Except for one thing: she spent the entire article bemoaning how the media was wasting its time covering these unimportant, overpaid brats at the expense of people who had made a real difference in history. She did so when she should have devoted but a paragraph on that criticism, and the rest of the column to the story of a black American you should have been hearing about, but probably hadn’t.
As a columnist, she is part of the media she criticized. And by focusing all of her space on the celebrities she’s tired of hearing about, she’s guilty of the very problem she was describing to begin with!
Meanwhile, George W. Bush wants you to believe that there is nothing more important than winning the war on terror. Many of you believe that this is true, even if you suspect that it really isn’t possible to win a “war” waged against something as vague as “terror.”
On the other hand, you may think that the mess in Iraq is a separate issue that is more important than fighting terrorists, or that fixing the former will radically curtail the latter. To those people, Bush’s assertion that you must think the way he does seems ridiculous. It turns people away from putting priority to it at all; it even makes them want to ridicule the whole idea: how many blogs have you seen that turn the Department of Homeland Security’s current terror threat level into a gauge populated by Muppets?
Winning the war on terror and reducing global warming may both be in your top five big concerns for the next administration. (I hope they are.) But you may also be facing a major illness with insufficient insurance. Health care, therefore, may be your number one concern, regardless of what Bush or Gore want you to think. If you die because you can’t afford a life-saving medical procedure, what difference will it make to you if we’re still at war in five years or if the polar ice caps melt in ten years?
My outrage comes from the fact that we are constantly facing people who want to twist our arms behind our backs and make us scream “Uncle!” and believe exactly what they do. The Republicans do it. The Democrats do it. The religious do it. The non-religious do it. Every group has its own agenda, and they all want us to side with them and wear their gripes on our sleeve with as much fury as they do.
It’s no longer enough that we agree with them that their points are valid.
My outrage comes from the lack of an answer to these simple questions: Why can’t we have several key issues at the top of the agenda? Why can’t we say that there are so many things wrong that we have lots of work to do and fast?
And why does it have to be either/or?
(Incedentally, for those keeping score, the first quote was from Bush talking about the terrorists. The second quote came from Gore on the subject of global warming. The third quote, from 9-year-old Alyssa Luz-Ricca, also referred to global warming as well.)