Sizing Up Clinton’s New Climate Message

Bill Scher

If you want a presidential candidate who supports a carbon tax and vociferously opposes the Keystone pipeline, you should vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

If you want a presidential candidate who has thought through how to best communicate to swing voters how a clean energy-fueled America will help, not hurt, economic growth, Hillary Clinton is probably your best bet.

In conjunction with an announcement of her renewable energy strategy, Clinton released the three-minute climate ad “Stand for Reality.”

What you see is the culmination of years of Democratic Party and environmental movement struggles over how to overcome the challenge of how to message a crisis that most believe is happening but don’t feel is imminently threatening their daily lives.

The ad elegantly weaves together multiple threads. It makes the moral case for protecting the environment and doing right for the next generation. It makes the economic case that generating clean American energy will create jobs by keeping America on the technological cutting edge. It makes the “choice” case, that families should have the choice of renewable energy to power their lives. And it makes the science case, that politicians that refuse to accept “settled science” are ideologically blind.

“I’m just a grandmother with two eyes and a brain,” Clinton says, at once a withering put-down of science-challenged Republicans and a testament to generational responsibility.

You won’t find tree-hugging hippies in the ad. Only multicultural families, construction workers and scientists, signaling that the climate matters to the broad middle class and not a narrow interest group.

“You don’t have to be a scientist to take on this urgent challenge that threatens us all,” Clinton says in rebuttal to a myriad of Republican quotes on the screen. She speaks over images of wildfires and extreme weather events that many Americans see happening today on their televisions.

But the ad is not a festival of alarmism. It is far more dominated by cute children and hard-working Americans. Speaking of the annual benefits of renewable energy, we see a child holding chalk while on the sidewalk is written “Prevents 70,000 Asthma Attacks.” “50,000 New Jobs” and “$35 Billion In Investments” we need next to a laboratory scientist and hydroelectric power plant.

She then paints a vision of the future, pledging “more than half a billion solar panels” in her first term, and a 10-year goal of “generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America.” Animated white lines drawn over video of homes, buildings and fields symbolize what the future could bring.

She summons American can-do spirit: “We don’t hide from change, we harness it.” And she ends by saying we should stand for “reality” and “the future,” a brushback at Sen. Marco Rubio and others who want to tag Clinton with representing the past, without taking any stances to prove they can meet the challenges of the future.

We can’t fully analyze her program because what she has unveiled so far is only a portion of her overall plan. Vox’s Brad Plumer says, “We’ll need to see more detail” before knowing if her policies are sufficient to meet her goals. The New Republic’s Rebecca Leber notes Clinton still avoids taking clear stands on matters that have divided Democrats: “Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands oil extraction, natural gas, fracking, and Arctic drilling.”

Those who dislike the evasion and want firm pledges to keep as much fossil fuel in the ground as possible will naturally gravitate toward Sanders. Those who don’t mind clever politicking when navigating sticky subjects will be more partial to Clinton. But environmentalists of all stripes should be heartened to see how far Democrats have come in refining their climate rhetoric.

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