‘Moderation is madness’: why Democratic centrism dooms us all

‘Moderation is madness’: why Democratic centrism dooms us all
Washington, DC USA - November 4 2021: Senator Joe Manchin is confronted by climate activists leaving his boat on his way to Capitol Hill (Shutterstock).

The scientific data behind the dire predictions about climate change is as unequivocally dependable as the Standard Model of particle physics. Despite decades of drastic warnings by the world's scientists and real-time consequences of the burning of fossil fuels, there are lawmakers within the Democratic Party who remain beholden to the interests of oil companies and refuse to accept that reliance on hydrocarbons is rapidly diminishing the habitability of our planet.

United States Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, is the epitome of said politically indifferent, climate justice columnist Mary Annaïse Heglar wrote in a powerful essay in The New Republic on Tuesday.

Manchin has been ripped by critics as an "arsonist," a "villain," and a "threat to the globe" for torpedoing President Joe Biden's Build Back Better legislation, which contained provisions to tackle climate change that Biden promised during the 2020 campaign. And his centrist approach to combating global warming is hastening Earth's ecological apocalypse.

"There is no middle ground on the path to a livable future, at least not anymore. And especially not for the party that purports to 'believe in science,'" Helgar begins. "The science is screaming at us: We need to transition off fossil fuels, immediately. Any effort to drill new oil, lease new wells, build new pipelines is not just risky but suicidal."

According to Helgar, the chance to find a middle ground has long passed.

"The can has been kicked too far down the road. It’s created a world in which calls for extremely basic human necessities like clean water and breathable air are heard as radical. Bipartisanship is dead, and centrists killed it," she writes. "Every single time Democrats try to meet Republicans in the middle, they sprint further to the right—from policies like a carbon tax to individually mandated health insurance. There is no sense in going back to that waterless well."

While the Republican Party has devolved into a "fascist" lost cause, Heglar continues, liberals "have sat on the sidelines either willfully ignoring their new reality or, worse, pointing and laughing. Over and over, they fall victim to bad-faith arguments, mistaking pure shamelessness for stupidity."

She reminds her readers that the tenets of today's GOP are an indictment of modern society.

"The right-wing is a party of zealots. They believe in what they’re doing. They hurt LGBTQ people and people of color and refugees and women because they are bigots, point-blank. They believe in white supremacy, whether or not they call it that outright," Helgar notes.

Because his state is heavily right-wing, Manchin is in a unique position inside his caucus. Instead of leading, however, Manchin coddles the most extreme conservatives and their opposition to breaking our addiction to oil.

"Centrist is no longer the right moniker for politicians who want to 'compromise' with the radical right. Centrist implies reasonable—someone willing to meet in the middle and consider many approaches to reach a goal," Helgar writes. "But at this stage, if you’re in favor of new fossil fuel infrastructure when all the science says that’s a death sentence, what exactly is your goal?"

With Manchin, that is abundantly clear.

Manchin "is a literal coal baron and the fossil fuel industry’s inside man. If he’s supposed to be a centrist, what exactly is he in the middle of? Nazis on the one side and people who (checks notes) want a livable future on the other? There’s no way to label Joe Manchin a 'centrist' without validating folks who believe in actual lizard people as a legitimate side of the political spectrum," Helgar states. "In his enthusiastic and unquestioning support for a clearly violent industry, Joe Manchin is nobody’s centrist. He is a fossil fuel hawk, and we should call him that."

Helgar adds that the Democratic Party's abandonment of West Virginia has forced liberal voters into falsely believing that Manchin is an essential player simply because he is a Democrat. That, Helgar proclaims, is an insult to the constituency's collective intelligence.

"It seems clear to me that the reason we can’t get a more progressive Democrat in West Virginia is because the Democratic Party has disinvested from the South since the 1970s. It’s quite apparent when you look down the ballots and notice that so many Republican candidates run in the South unopposed," she explains. "When Democrats do compete in the races, their strategy is simply to meet voters where they are, but once elected, they never take them anywhere else."

Climate change, meanwhile, is the most imminent existential threat facing life on Earth. If Democrats are serious about dealing with it, callous centrists like Manchin need to go.

"How much longer can we do the same thing and expect different results? In the face of the climate crisis, moderation is madness. There is no more time for pussyfooting and half measures. The science is clear, and the fire is getting hotter," Helgar concludes. "If the Democrats believe the science, it’s time to act like it. We know what we need to do, and there’s nothing moderate or centrist about it."

Helgar's full column is available here (subscription required).

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