At a recent CNN event Anderson Cooper accused Biden of "trying to have it both ways" on fracking (check out my minicast on nuclear fracking, btw) by refusing to condemn the practice but also promising to be the anti-climate change / pro-environment president. Biden's position, which he clarified, proved Cooper correct: he doesn't want to ban fracking, but he wants to stop issuing new fracking permits. That's supposed to make everyone happy, but of course in reality it just gives everyone something to point at and be dissatisfied.

I'm not criticizing Biden; I point this out because I think fracking is the ideal example of a trap issue for Democrats. Forget all the "culture wars" stuff. Fracking, and environmental issues in general, do a superior job of positioning them between a rock and a hard place. Pun intended.

On the one hand, you have environmental voters and younger people who are convinced that the climate crisis is real and imminent. They want bold, immediate action to address it. On the other hand, you have the working class and organized labor constituencies who see the reality that oil & gas industry work is some of the last well-paid blue collar work left in this country. If you don't believe me, take a trip through North Dakota and look at how $60+ per hour (dirty, dangerous) fracking jobs have transformed that state's economy and population.

What do you really expect a candidate to do in these economically depressed midwestern and plains states, not to mention out west: walk into town and say "Hey I see you finally got something going here, got some money coming in, got some steady work. Well, I promise to shut it all down!" At the same time, "Let's just ignore this climate change stuff" is…well, it may not be a politically suicidal message but it's actually suicidal. In the non-metaphorical sense. Older people mostly don't care, but it's increasingly being recognized as a life-and-death problem. A crisis, even.

The only way to play it, in theory, would be to promise to transition people from economically positive but environmentally destructive work like fracking to economically positive, environmentally positive industries. Promise them high-paying jobs in different lines of work, and deliver. The problem is the Democrats have played this card before – hell, Bill Clinton campaigned on "Your job will go away but we'll get you an even better job" in 1992. People have long memories and they simply don't believe it anymore. For this to work, there will have to be something tangible to show voters. Democrats, when in power, will actually have to do it. Then and only then they can plausibly go to voters and say, look at this. This is the deal. We will do this for you like we did it for X, Y, and Z.

That will mean an end to derisively referring to plans to make the economy work in favor of the environment as "the green dream or whatever." And most of all it will require that thing the modern Democratic Party seems to dread the most – long-term thinking. They'll have to admit that they can't please everyone in the short-term and work toward presenting voters with an everyone-pleasing option in the near future. Because right now this is a trap and there's no good way out of it. The solution is to work to avoid being in the same trap in the future.

14 thoughts on “FRACKED IF YOU DO”

  • Perhaps Biden will revisit campaign finance reform, which, ideally would allow our representatives to represent a little more than the campaign financiers.

  • The whole idea that people 20 years into a career are going to take a 6 week night class and walk into a comfortable high-paying job is simply a fantasy.

    If only we had serious infrastructure problems across one of the largest nations on the planet that would occupy an entire generation of workers… Too bad something like the CCC has never been successfully implemented before.

  • On the other hand, you have the working class and organized labor constituencies who see the reality that oil & gas industry work is some of the last well-paid blue collar work left in this country.

    Ah yes, so that's why they then turn around and support the people who do everything they can to _reduce_ wages and worker safety in that sector.

    People should only be able to work in oil and gas after they've PERSONALLY murdered all of their children, because that's what they're doing to the rest of us.

  • Real talk, why should Democrats care about these people?

    We cannot let the stupid people drive policy. If you can't convince enough smart people to outvote the stupid people on a Lets Not End The Human Race platform, then there aren't enough smart people. And if you're a smart person watching this unfold, you should vote with your feet and move. If you think about it, America is just a bigger version of a red state. Blue urban areas and a vast sea of rural red. I'd never live in a red state, and soon I might have to ditch living in a red country.

  • The Democratic game for the last 40 years has been: make vague promises to electorate about X, then go to industry and hold out a hand for a suitable bribe, and if that bribe is received, do nothing about X.

    Biden would never stop issuing fracking permits. But he would accept suitable payoffs from industry in exchange for not doing that. Obama spent his presidency increasing fracking as much as possible, and Biden is to Obama's right. Hillary Clinton spent her term as Secretary of State aggressively pushing fracking worldwide. There's just no way Biden takes even the slightest action against the oil and gas industry.

    "The environment" has always been a low-level issue. But it's increasing in voter salience each year. ALL young people care about the environment (including conservative ones). And many older people are starting to catch on that something is going on here. The idea that it's not political suicide to screw the environment was once true, but is increasingly less so. Biden is right on the edge of losing, against Donald Trump (!!!!). If he was convincingly promising a Green New Deal, I doubt that would be true.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Here's the deal – fracking, and oil and gas extraction in general, is already economically unsustainable, and the big banks and have financed it know it and aren't financing it anymore.

    It's next to impossible to convince politicians that have to start running for re-election the day after they get elected to consider the long-term ramifications of policy.

    At some point, someone in the Democratic party is going to have to say, "Look, fat, this is how it's going to be. Yeah, we're going to shut down the dangerous but high paying work you have now in favor of a less dangerous but probably slightly less lucrative work you can have for the next twenty years. In the meantime, here's a check to cover the difference and get you retrained."

    As the saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks. Get real people to experience the benefits of job transitioning, market the hell out of it, and they will come.

  • There are a lot of fracking wells abandoned by their operators leaking methane. Capping them would create lots of jobs, and, as a bonus, build up wind power. That would require training, but very specific training with regards to new devices and operations, not a totally new skill set.

  • No need to criticize Biden, agreed. He just doesn't actually believe the climate alarmism any more than do the Obamas in their brand new oceanfront mansion (which must be losing resale value practically by the minute, eh?) These Settled Science Democratic stalwarts bravely combined immediacy and long-term thinking with their Crucial, Existential Crisis-Mitigating Paris accords, which exempted India and Brazil from any formal obligation whatsoever, and extracted a non-binding promise from China to achieve fractional reductions starting in 2030. These people do care about their kids and grandkids and their nation, as does actual man of science Xi Jinping. Maybe it's best to just watch what they all do, instead of what they say at jamborees to the plucky Green Scouts with their important badges and oaths.

  • I understand. They can afford a 15 million dollar—plus ongoing upkeep—throwaway investment, optics be damned. Hopefully AOC’s scientific findings won’t shorten the timeframe.

  • That's supposed to make everyone happy, but of course in reality it just gives everyone something to point at and be dissatisfied.

    And that, right there, is the most beautiful summary of "compromise in a polarised political system" that I have ever seen.

    It seems to me that there are three elements to a potentially successful left-wing strategy:

    1) As SHOTT3R wrote somewhat less diplomatically, focus on turning out your supporters, because the other side hates you and won't be won over anyway.

    2) Focus messaging on one or two key problems or proposals that matter to people (health care, green jobs, minimum wage, or debt forgiveness, for example?) and largely ignore everything that requires difficult trade-offs to be explained and everything that doesn't matter hugely to people in their daily lives (e.g. the others are wrecking our norms!).

    3) Less relevant to the present post, but also important, stop worrying about whether your candidate has been painted as unlikable or unelectable by the right wing media, because if you swap them out, guess what? Joke's on you, they are going to do the same thing with your next candidate anyway, and the next one after that.

    Not that anybody is going to take my advice.

  • Why talk about fracking at all? Between the Saudis and the Russians, oil will be well below their cost of production indefinitely as the pandemic has cratered demand. Better to talk about it in the past tense and have some kind of plan for when that inevitably comes true.

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