April 23, 2002

Will the Environment Ever Take Center Stage?…

From a story by Dan Balz and Dana Milbank in the Washington Post: “With Bush’s overall approval rating still near 80 percent, Democrats see his handling of the environment as one area of potential weakness as they look for issues in this fall’s midterm elections. Although Democrats enjoy an advantage with the public on the environment, the issue ranks below education, the economy and health care in terms of importance to voters.”

It is difficult to imagine the environment having much impact on the mid-term elections except in local areas where there are acute problems. In a sense, the environment has always been a profoundly local issue until brought to national attention by catastrophe. I believe, however, that Al Gore has a chance to make the environment a more meaningful issue for 2004.

It is the “moral” factor that makes the environment a more interesting issue for a Gore presidential bid than in years past. Gore specifically called the environment a moral issue in his Earth Day speech. This tactic plays especially well against the administration’s Enron troubles. Plus, the Bush administration has demonstrated remarkably inept public relations in regard to environmental issues and announcements. They often appear to say one thing and do another, which can be easily spun as moral issue in itself.

Yes, the economy, education, and health care rank above the environment as important issues with voters. But Gore has always tried to sell the environment as an economic issue, too. And he did this again on Earth Day. Further, it does not take much imagination to see how one might tie education and other social issues to the environment–especially if Gore is willing to expand the notion of environment. To accomplish this, he will need to win the battle of definitions with the Republicans.

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