Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Mashable’s description of Senator Sheldon’s climate speeches to empty rooms, where even Democrats can’t be bothered to turn up. Senator Whitehouse blames dark money.
Meet the U.S. senator obsessed with climate change
Every week the Senate has been in session since April 2012, one lonely Democratic senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, has taken to the Senate floor to speak about global warming. On March 13, Senator Whitehouse gave his 200th “It’s Time to Wake Up” speech on climate change.
The speech was atypical for Whitehouse, who has grown accustomed to the unsettling feeling of standing virtually alone on the Senate floor while speaking about a topic that he believes is of the utmost importance.
“It’s a very hollow feeling. If you believe that this is a matter of such consequence and that it’s going to hit your home state so hard that you are going to put in this kind of an effort, then to have it be in an empty chamber, it’s a little disconcerting,” he said in an interview, regarding most of his climate speeches.
This time, though, to mark the anniversary, 19 of his Democratic colleagues joined him to discuss the issue.
Whitehouse says he’s learned a lot about the science preparing for these speeches, and also has come to investigate why the politics of this issue are so intractable. This has turned his gaze squarely on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed for unlimited corporate money and so-called “dark money” to flow into politics.
“Climate failure and dark money are two sides of the same coin,” Whitehouse said. Dark money is flowing to groups that promote the view that climate change is not real, and also punish Republicans that contemplate acting to reduce the severity of the problem.
He said he has “very intentionally wanted to be the witness on the ground” to tell future generations exactly why Congress has not acted. In his view, it’s not because of partisanship or the failure of the Democratic system, but rather special interest money flowing unfettered into campaigns, squelching any potential bipartsian compromises on climate legislation.
Its nice that Senator Whitehouse’s colleagues turned out for his 200th anniversary. But endless speeches to empty rooms highlights the scale of Whitehouse’s lost opportunity.
Imagine the good Senator Whitehouse could have done, focussing his obsessive nature on addressing a real issue. He could have been a great reformer, someone who made a real difference to the lives or ordinary Americans. Instead he will be remembered by history the way we remember other half forgotten political failures, as an irrelevant footnote, a blowhard who exemplified the incomprehensible historical delusions of great grandpa’s time.