The Republicans' Secret Greenwash

"THE ENVIRONMENTAL LOBBY and their extremist friends in the eco-terrorist underworld have been working overtime to define Republicans and their agenda as anti-environment, pro-polluter, and hostile to the survival of every cuddly critter roaming God's green earth."

Thus begins a secret Republican plan to counteract the "drumbeat message of the Left" and present Newt's legions as friends of Nature. Drafted at the end of October by staffers on the House Resources Committee (previously the House Natural Resources Committee), chaired by the Alaska Republican Don Young, the strategy document has now been circulated to all Republican House members, with the peremptory suggestion that its agenda be adopted before "your opponent can label your efforts crayon election year gimmicks. Remember, as a famous frog once said, 'It ain't easy being green.'"

In fact, as it explicitly concedes, this Republican plan confirms what grassroots greens have been telling the soggy national organizations for the past five years: The quality of the environment matters deeply to most Americans; strong green policies can muster crucial support and enthusiasm.

These Republicans know well that they are highly vulnerable on this front. "To many in our growing Republican majority," the plan declares, "especially suburban women and young--the environment is an important issue."

The nine-page Republican document concentrates in large part on basic PR strategies whereby candidates can present themselves as heirs to what the plan reverently invokes as the Teddy Roosevelt tradition. Republican candidates are counseled to establish a Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award in each congressional district, divided into youth, senior, and business categories. T.R. is hailed as "the Republicans' most famous environmentalist" and candidates are encouraged to use his name as often as possible.

Environmental cleanup, the plan notes, "is among the fastest growing industries in America" (another confirmation of what environmentalists have been saying for years) and Republican candidates are strongly urged to "do some investigative work to seek out environmental-related companies in your district, contact the facility and arrange a tour. Be sure to invite the media to participate. Chances are the company will be happy to participate in this earned media opportunity." (Connoisseurs of this kind of language will note the phrase "earned media" now replaces the thriftless and irresponsible implications of the old phrase, "free media.")

"Become active in your local zoo," the strategists advise. "Go for a visit and participate in fundraising events for it," thus yielding more "earned media." Candidates should issue frequent public service announcements ("earned media" again) and advise voters on the pressing environmental issues of the day, such as "proper battery and motor oil disposal," "encouraging respect for nature when camping or hunting," "keeping lakes, rivers, and beaches clean by putting garbage in its place." These perky hints came from committee staffers who had just written laws dooming the 16-million acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska to the dioxin-spewing pulp mills of Louisiana-Pacific.

"If your current plans include door to door," Don Young's script writers urge with matchless effrontery, "consider passing out tree saplings with your pamphlets. Some Members even design the pamphlet so that it is attached to the tree sapling. This practice demonstrates your commitment to the environment by encouraging the planting of trees and it provides you with an opportunity to use appropriate language tying your legislative agenda to the 'roots' you are establishing or growing in your community."

Candidates are told to build up computer databases on constituents expressing environmental concerns, and to pick likely people from these lists to work on a "conservation task force." Group contacts are to be made with the garden clubs, 4-H societies, Ducks Unlimited, and "Audobon" [sic] chapters and "other local or grassroots organizations that are sympathetic to your commonsense environmental agenda."

"Think globally, act locally" is the title of one section of the confidential Republican plan. This offers candidates' campaign staffers a grassroots game plan to rout the Democratic opposition: "Think of it this way, the next time Bruce Babbit [sic] comes to your district and canoes down a river on a media stunt to tell the press how anti-environment their congressman is, if reporters have been to your boss' Adopt-a-Highway clean-up, two of his tree plantings and his congressional task force on conservation hearings, they'll just laugh Babbit [sic] back to Washington."

This Republican strategy isn't too different from Clinton's. Both consist of media manipulation since both start from the same central difficulty--from an honest environmental perspective--that Republican Opposition and Democratic Administration have both been terrible. The difference is that the Republicans see salvation in some form of grassroots activity, whereas Clinton depends entirely on the pledges and fawning advertisements ("Thank you, Mr. President") of the CEOs of the national environmental groups who lost touch with their members long ago.

For a real grassroots environmental campaign from the left, we must look to Ralph Nader's independent Green Party presidential candidacy in California, designed to warn Clinton that it would only take a 2 percent showing by Nader to cost Clinton the state and hence his hopes for a second-term presidency.

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