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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Third Party

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Michael Silverstein talks about the potential invigoration of the election process in the event of a third party.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. This November, American voters could be favored with more than the usual pair of Presidential choices. Voter fascination with Ross Perot, Colin Powell, and distant rumblings from so-called radical center politicians, Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas, and Lowell Weicker, suggest a third party candidate could still emerge. And how should this candidate consider the environment? Commentator Michael Silverstein has some advice.

SILVERSTEIN: Should a serious third party presidential candidate actually emerge in months to come, what might this person's environmental politics be like? What might a true centrist contender choose to salvage from present Democratic and Republican environmental approaches on the way to creating a genuine, middle of the road political environmentalism? The obvious element worth saving with respect to a liberal Clinton/Gore Administration's environmental efforts, of course, is wonkery, the realm of creative program development. This administration has taken important steps to move the EPA toward a pollution prevention, rather than an end of pipe orientation. After a slow start, it has given the export of American green technologies a solid boost. It has also made serious efforts to simplify decades worth of stultifying environmental regulations.

Alas, these genuinely sensible and worthwhile environmental initiatives have been matched by an equal number of silly and distracting old liberal agenda spasms. Things like efforts to create a green Gross Domestic Product and an endless prattle about something touchy-feely called environmental social justice.

The environmental approaches a centrist third party would salvage from a current Democratic administration, then, are sensible, down to earth initiatives that appeal to sensible down to earth Americans. Not to just a few deconstructionists, academics, and some precious New Age campaign contributors. The thing a New Centrist party might salvage from a conservative Republican Congress, when it comes to the environment, is passion, enthusiasm, a genuine righteous indignation. Many of the Republican voices calling for dismemberment of the present regulatory system are real people crying out for redress from real threats to their economic future. These voices, strident though they be, have proven more than a match for the screechy professional pleaders who over the years have become spokesmen for so many environmental causes.

A new centrist political party must bring a conservative Republican-like fire back to the environmental platform. Must create a green populist rhetoric. It must make environmentalism seem like the job and profit future of the many, not a head game or a charitable good work of the few.

The American political system bears within itself the makings of one great environmental policy. Unfortunately, these makings are equally divided between two hostile and ossified political blocks. A third party that can extract the best green elements from each of these blocks and cast aside the encrusted ideological baggage carried by both might just create a very potent vote-getting mechanism indeed.

CURWOOD: Writer Michael Silverstein comes to us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia.



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