More than half of Harry Reid's Senate Democratic caucus participated in a multi-hour "talk-a-thon," which began last evening and wrapped up earlier this morning. The ostensible purpose of the speech parade was to draw attention to what speakers described as the pressing issue of climate change. It was an odd spectacle. Not only were Democrats "demanding action" from a legislative body that they control, they did so while deliberately declining to specify what action they were demanding. Might I suggest the following inspirational chant?
What do we want?
Non-specific action from ourselves!
When do we want it?
The Washington Post pursued the elusive point of the whole spectacle, acknowledging that solutions were off the table:
At least 28 Democrats plan to use floor time to raise their concerns on the lack of attention being paid to climate change -- although there is no single bill or even set of bills for which they will be advocating. Tonight's program "isn’t about a particular bill," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who helped organize the talkathon. "This is about trying to raise the profile and being to gain some momentum on this issue. Then I think we’re in a position to ask corporate America and other groups and organizations to get more engaged and open the kind of space it will take to pass a bill. But the first thing we have to show is that we’re engaged ourselves."
In an era of ballooning debt, anemic economic growth, rampant healthcare disruptions and chronically high unemployment, global warming is nowhere near the top of most Americans' priority list. In fact, fewer than half of the population views the phenomenon as both real and primarily caused by humans, according to the most recent NYT/CBS News poll. When Rand Paul and Ted Cruz stood and spoke for hours on end, they were advocating explicit steps on resonant issues. Paul wanted a full explanation of the federal government's power to use drone strikes to kill American citizens. Cruz was angling to defund a law that is actively hurting millions of people. So why would Senate Democrats risk looking out of touch by hyping a low priority issue without even issuing concrete policy solutions for the public to evaluate? The Post piece finally landed on the actual motivating factor behind Team Reid's elaborate performance. Ka-ching:
Environmental groups spent about $20 million on ads and other activities to help Democrats in 2012 and gave about $742,000 directly to candidates during the cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics...Then there's the billionaire businessman Thomas Steyer. He's quickly emerged as a new and much-needed source of campaign money for Democrats eager to find ways to match the rise of conservative donors who are using new super PACs to spend millions of dollars attacking congressional Democrats on the airwaves...Steyer hosted a recent fundraiser at his San Francisco home that netted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $400,000 and where Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and the six other Democratic senators in attendance openly discussed plans for tonight's talkathon, according to reports. Reid also has vowed to allow his colleagues to discuss the issue during their weekly lunches and on the Senate floor. This year, Steyer plans to go much farther by using his advocacy group, NextGen Political Action, to spend about $100 million to help Democratic congressional candidates.
Well, well, well. Harry Reid's been ranting about the perils of allowing "un-American" billionaires to "buy" elections lately, disgracefully and inaccurately sullying cancer patients in the process. All the while, his party -- including Reid in particular -- have been cheerfully raking in mega dollars from loaded donors of their own. Evidently, politically-active billionaires can avoid being slandered on the Senate floor simply by agreeing with Harry Reid. It's a neat trick, that. One such enlightened fellow is Tom Steyer, who's committed $100 million to help beat Republicans this fall, and whose pet passion is environmentalism. In a remarkable stroke of good fortune, Reid and friends just happened to cook up this talk-a-thon at a posh fundraiser held at Steyer's San Francisco home. Given his nine-figure pledge, the NRSC notes that Steyer effectively rented the Senate floor for approximately $6 million per hour last night. The irony, of course, is that the ruinous policies Steyer would like to see enacted are too politically unpalatable to even mention in an election year. So instead of working to advance a bill that (a) would not make any measurable impact on the planet's climate, but (b) would have a decidedly measurable impact on middle class Americans' wallets, Steyer bought himself a dog and pony show. Not to fear, liberals, strings were almost certainly attached. If Democrats keep their majority thanks in large part to this man's largesse, there will be tangible legislation and votes to follow -- scheduled as far away from an election as possible. And in case you're curious: Yes, vulnerable Democrats were in fact given a hall pass on last night's posture-fest:
Mary Landrieu, the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was noticeably absent from the demonstration. The vulnerable Democrat faces re-election this fall in Louisiana, a state with large swaths of conservative voters.
Republicans are highlighting Landrieu's shell game in a new "waiting"-themed web ad: