Rep. Adam Smith meets with 30 climate activists at his Renton office

This morning, Rep. Adam Smith (WA, CD-09, D) met at his Renton office with about 30 climate change activists who came to thank him for signing on to support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution.

Rep. Smith said “A durable progressive majority is the best way to get a Green New Deal.”  For now, with Republicans in control of the Senate and with Trump in the White House, there’s not much that can be passed.   Furthermore, Democrats who serve in many swing districts have to be wary of going too far left. (Some of the audience members asked about how to convince Rep. Kim Shrier, of the 9th CD, to sign on to the Green New Deal resolution.)

He said that people often claim that we don’t have democracy, that the rich people run things.  He says that it’s not really true. American democracy is still quite bottom-up, though rich people can sure tweak messaging to distort the opinions of people.  He said that the Republicans have done a “masterful job” of denigrating government as a force for good.

As example of the power of grassroots democracy, Rep. Smith said that while it’s true that a majority of Americans — maybe 65% — support tougher gun laws, the 35% of people who support strong gun rights are, in general, extremely passionate about their views.  His congressional district used to be further south, where it was more rural and more Republican. He said — if I heard him correctly — that when a gun control bill came up for consideration, he got tens of thousands of postcards from NRA supporters asking him to opposed tougher gun laws. The gun control advocates weren’t so passionate.

Rep. Adam Smith discussing his support for the Green New Deal resolution in Renton, WA, Feb 16, 2019
Rep. Adam Smith discussing his support for the Green New Deal
Green New Deal supporters at Rep. Adam Smith's office in Renton, WA, Feb 16, 2019
Green New Deal supporters at the back of the room

Rep. Smith suggested that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is politically naive and self-destructive to call herself a “socialist” when she is, in fact, really a social democrat (aka a New Deal Democrat).  Republicans will have a field day ridiculing the Democrats as socialists.   (I strongly agree with his point, as I have written here.)

I asked Smith whether he, or other lawmakers, reached out to Ocasio-Cortez to point out her error. He made a face and said that he thinks he’s not the right person to reach out to her.

Smith said he’s a capitalist, but he supports regulations and progressive legislation.  He said he’s on our side.

Rep. Smith quoted economist Adam Smith: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”  Rep. Smith implied that the economist Adam Smith thereby supported government regulations, though it’s not clear that that was was he thought.

We spent a lot of the meeting discussing how to convince the public to agree to fight climate change. Voters in Washington State again voted against a carbon tax, and unless we can convince them that it’s to their benefit personally — by pointing out the benefits of cleaner air, healthier lungs, and less traffic — it will be hard to win them over by appealing to warnings about the end of civilization. Though Republicans win elections by fear, Democrats seem unable to do that.

Rep. Smith said that a crucial problem is that our tax system subsidizes the fossil fuel industry.

He said that we have the technology to address climate change. “In fact, in 2008, John McCain and Sarah Palin ran on climate change. … But then when President Obama won, the Republicans decided since a Democrat was pushing it, it had to be wrong, and that caused a major rift.” “We now have one party whose energy policy is, we can’t burn enough fossil fuels. I know that I have to fight this in the Department of Defense. Every year the Republicans are trying to cut the programs that they’re doing to generate alternative fuels.” But climate change is the future, where the jobs are. The question is whether the technology will develop fast enough for us to do away with fossil fuels. In the Pacific Northwest, maybe we can (due to wind and hydro-electric power). But it’s much harder in the Midwest, where they are much more dependent on fossil fuels.

The meeting was organized by the groups Sunrise and 350 Seattle.

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