Stewart: Could a Green Candidate Doom Whitehouse and Allow a GOP Win?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


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U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

I'm a National Delegate to the Green Party of the United States and a member of the Green Party of Rhode Island's State Committee. I've invested a substantial amount of time, energy, and money into trying to grow the state party from the ground-up and I can say without a shred of hyperbole (despite my deepest and earnest wishes to the contrary) that this state will not see a serious contender for a federal seat coming from the Greens in 2018.

There might be some interesting municipal races and maybe even a state level contest, if the Greens play their cards right in the next several months, but the simple truth is that the state party has no infrastructure to take on Sheldon Whitehouse, whose corporate faux-environmentalism would make him the perfect target for a Green challenger. It would be so insanely easy for a progressive to campaign against Whitehouse over fossil fuel infrastructure expansion in South Providence and Burrillville and counter using a two-pronged approach.

First, a hypothetical Green candidate could bash Sheldon over the head with the US Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause to indicate that, yes, in fact sitting Congressional delegates in Washington DC could stop fracked gas from being circulated nationwide through pipelines. Regardless of one's preconceptions of voters in red states, it is demonstrable that Americans don't like fracking ruining the water supply and air quality of their communities and bringing earthquakes to parts of the country where they never previously existed, meaning a bipartisan coalition to end the transit of fracked gas across state lines is tenable.

Second, a hypothetical Green candidate could propose a jobs program, supported by Washington but administered locally by the state, that would begin a rapid conversion of public energy infrastructure to a renewable energy grid, something that would give the Building and Trades unions years of work. This program would need to put solar panels and windmills on each publicly owned rooftop and then move to do the same in each neighborhood, with a distribution of municipally employed repair crews laid out on the same grid used currently to distribute fire department stations across our cities and towns. Seth Magaziner's Green Infrastructure Bank already provides the essential elements necessary for such a program and could be the fulcrum of such an energy infrastructure transition.

But that will never happen. The leadership of the Green Party of Rhode Island is simply not anywhere near where they would need to be to run a serious congressional campaign.

Instead the major contender against the incumbent is longtime loudmouth Bobby Nardolillo, a Tea Partying Trump-loving Republican who has been showing up at hearings and events relevant to the Burrillville fracas so to make it known that he opposes a fracked gas power plant.

Some of you might be scratching your heads and wonder how a right winger can mobilize using a progressive issue like environmentalism. However, the reality is that the ideological neutrality of an ethos like conservation means anyone can use it to further their political careers. Teddy Roosevelt, a shameless imperialist whose brutality is not given its full reckoning by popular history, founded the national park system and is accorded high regard for his brand of environmentalism despite how terribly he treated people of darker skin shades than he.

In Germany, where the Greens first materialized as a political party, there was a serious and dangerous instance, during the early days of the party, when right wingers joined the organization to promote a fascist ecology. Green theorist and historian Janet Biehl wrote in 1995 “Today's [German] fascists have a distinct ideological legacy from their fascist forebears upon which to draw. Indeed, 'ecology' and a mystical reverence for the natural world are hardly new to German nationalism. At the end of the nineteenth century, a cultural revolt against positivism swept much of Europe, as George L. Mosse writes, and in Germany it became infused with both nature-mysticism and racial nationalism.” Harkening back to the idyllic aesthetics of Bambi author Felix Salten and philosopher Martin Heidegger, they tapped into a nostalgia for a pre-industrial Germany that quickly took on the trappings of xenophobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of chauvinism. The romanticized notion of 'living space', lebensraum, was quickly capitalized upon by Adolf Hitler as a justification for his invasions of European countries and his genocidal policies.

Biehl continues “Ecology can easily be perverted to justify this 'ethnopluralism' -- that is, nationalism. Conceptions of one's region as one's 'homeland,' or Heimat, can be perverted into a nationalistic regionalism when a region's traditions and language are mystically tied to an 'ancestral' landscape… For a people seeking to assert themselves against an outside intruder, an 'ecologized' Heimat in which they are biologically embedded can become a useful tool not only against imperialism but against immigration, foreigners, and 'overpopulation.' Elaborate justifications for opposing Third World immigration are disguised as diversity, drawing on 'ecological' arguments against 'overpopulation.'”

Those readers who have followed and struggled against the alt-right and the more overtly violent strains of Trumpism in Rhode Island over the past year will recognize that themes Biehl wrote about during the Clinton administration are resurfacing now. Frankly speaking, the reverential tone that inflects memorials of a Little House on the Prairie and the frontiersman, an individualist ethos of self-reliance and autonomy among the barely-tamed wildlife, is nothing more or less than a uniquely American hosanna for settler colonialism, the most violent, brutal, and genocidal form of imperialism that has been loosed by Europeans upon the world in the past 500 years. There is a deeply reactionary and violent element to conservation and its politics that can only be effectively and totally subdued with a buttressing by class-based intersectional feminist praxis and discourse. The need for such a buttress in our own local political arena is desparately needed and unfortunately, despite my best efforts to the contrary, is not yet being presented by the Green Part of Rhode Island.

More recently, the infiltration of environmental organizations in America by the Tanton network, a collection of nativist journals, think tanks, and intellectuals under the leadership of John Tanton, was a dangerous and ugly affair that hindered the opposition to George W. Bush's eco-cidal policies in the 2000s. Tanton, a retired eye doctor operating out of Michigan, became obsessed with the idea of over-population and the 19th century economist Thomas Malthus and so set about promoting the idea that Latinx workers were a major engine of environmental degradation.

These trends are a dangerous sort that Nardolillo (one of the two GOP candidates ofr U.S. Senate, former Ste Supreme Court Justice Bob Flanders is the other} can and will try to tap into easily by appealing to NRA member-constituents who fear that their hunting spots will be ruined by Invenergy. He can and will cater to the small business owners that fear their smoked meats and cheeses will be irreparably harmed by exhaust and waste put out by the power plant. Very quickly he will be able to marry this to a law and order rhetoric about undocumented workers, perhaps going as far as trotting out the literature John Tanton is still printing regularly, and might even end up on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. He will probably try to even talk about how the damned Arabs have filled the air with carbon and other potent anti-Muslim rhetoric that has a green tint. Anti-abortion ecology? It's coming folks!

The esteemed cultural critic and essayist Walter Benjamin, a thinker whose writings sought to blend the political with spiritual in a leftward direction in the face of Nazism, said “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.” Should Bobby Nardolillo best Whitehouse, these words might take on a relevancy whose implications I even dare not forecast. For the loudmouth, as revolting and slimy as he is, serves as just an augury as opposed to a climax of what right wing conservation can look like.

The failure of progressives to oppose this on all fronts with a class-based intersectional feminist praxis that provides a renewable energy jobs program to the Ocean State and gives us an ecology that is welcoming of undocumented workers, LGBTQIIA+, African Americans, the differently abled, and others disenfranchised by our current political system and its coordinates is the opening of a gateway to horrors that drove Benjamin to suicide in 1940. Will Rhode Island politics likewise turn suicidal?

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Andrew Stewart

Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.


Related Slideshow: GoLocal: Benchmark Poll, October 2017

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Sponsor: GoLocalProv

Sample: N=403

Rhode Island General Election Voters Margin of Error: +/- 4.9% at 95% Confidence Level

Interviewing Period: October 9-11, 2017

Mode: Landline (61%) and Mobile (39%)

Telephone Directed by: John Della Volpe, SocialSphere, Inc.

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Are you registered to vote at this address?

Yes: 100%

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When it comes to voting, do you consider yourself to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Moderate, or Unaffiliated with a major party?

Unaffiliated: 49%

Democrat: 32%

Republican: 15%

Moderate: .4%

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Next year, in November of 2018, there will be a statewide general election for Governor and many other state offices. How likely is it that you will vote in this election?

Will you definitely be voting, will you probably be voting, are you 50-50...

Definitely be voting: 78%

Probably be voting: 13%

50-50: 9%

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In general, would you say things in Rhode Island are headed in the right direction or are they off on the wrong track?

Right track: 39%

Wrong track: 45%

Mixed: 10%

Don't know/Refused: .6%

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What would you say is the number one problem facing Rhode Island that you would like the Governor to address?

Jobs and economy:  21%

Education: 12%

Taxes: 12%

Roads: 12%

State budget: 9%

Corruption/Public integrity: .8%

Healthcare: 3%

Governor: 3%

Homelessness: 2%

Immigration: 2%

Other: 7%

Don’t know: .9%

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Over the past three years or so, would you say the economy in Rhode Island has improved, gotten worse, or not changed at all?

Changed for the better: 35%

Changed for the worse: 16%

Not changed at all: 43%

Don't know/Refused: 5%

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Over the same time, has your family's financial situation improved, gotten worse, or not changed at all?

Changed for the better: 26%

Changed for the worse: 19%

Not changed at all: 54%

Don't know/Refused: 1%

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Recently, a proposal has been made to permit the issuance of $81 million in bonds by the State to build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox. If there was an election today on this issue, would you vote to approve or reject issuing $81 million in financing supported moral obligation bonds to build the stadium?

Net: Approve: 28%

Definitely approve: 15%

Probably approve: 14%

Net: Reject: 67%

Probably reject: 19%

Definitely reject: 48%

Don't know: 4%

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Could you please tell me your age?

18-24: 7%

25-34: 15%

35-44: 15%

45-54: 20%

55-64: 17%

65+: 25%

Don't know/refused: 1%

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What was the last grade you completed in school?

0-11: 2%

High school grad: 16%

Technical/Vocational school: 1%

Some college: 23%

College grad: 34%

Graduate degree: 24%

Don't know/refused: 1%

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The next question is about the total income of YOUR HOUSEHOLD for the PAST 12 MONTHS. Please include your income PLUS the income of all members living in your household (including cohabiting partners and armed forces members living at home).

$50,000 or less: 27%

More $50,000 but less than $75,000: 13%

More $75,000 but less than $100,000: 13%

More $100,000 but less than $150,000: 17%

$150,000 or more: 13%

Don't know/refused: 17%

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What particular ethnic group or nationality - such as English, French, Italian, Irish, Latino, Jewish, African American, and so forth - do you consider yourself a part of or feel closest to?

American/None: 21%

English: 13%

Italian: 13%

Irish: 12%

Black or African American: 6%

Latino/Hispanic: 6%

French: 6%

Portuguese: 3%

Jewish: 3%

German: 1%

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Would you say that Donald Trump has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as President?

Excellent: 13%
Good: 12%
Fair: 14%
Poor: 57%
Never heard of:  0%
Cannot rate: 3%

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Would you say that Jack Reed has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent: 22%
Good: 29%
Fair: 23%
Poor: 15%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate: 6%

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Would you say that Sheldon Whitehouse has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent: 17%
Good: 22%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 28%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate: 7%

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Would you say that David Cicilline has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a Member of Congress?

Excellent: 9%
Good: 29%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 27%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate:  8%

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Would you say that James Langevin has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a Member of Congress?

Excellent: 7%
Good: 30%
Fair: 20%
Poor: 18%
Never heard of: 13%
Cannot rate: 11%

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Would you say that Gina Raimondo has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Governor?

Excellent: 6%
Good: 28%
Fair: 30%
Poor: 31%
Never heard of: 1%
Cannot rate: 3%

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Would you say that Daniel McKee has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Lieutenant Governor?

Excellent: 3%
Good: 16%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 8%
Never heard of: 26%
Cannot rate: 25%

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Would you say that Peter Kilmartin has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Attorney General?

Excellent: 3%
Good: 20%
Fair: 28%
Poor: 17%
Never heard of: 13%
Cannot rate: 19%

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Would you say that Seth Magaziner has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as General Treasurer?

Excellent: 4%
Good: 18%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 13%
Never heard of: 21%
Cannot rate: 21%

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Would you say that Nellie Gorbea has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Secretary of State?

Excellent: 5%
Good: 21%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 10%
Never heard of: 20%
Cannot rate: 23%

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Would you say that Jorge Elorza has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Mayor of Providence?

Excellent: 4%
Good: 24%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 22%
Never heard of: 9%
Cannot rate: 15%


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