Outside magazine, January 1996
Psyched for a presidential election year in which the centrist incumbent battles the right with a passionate defense of the environment? Well, send us a postcard from wherever that happens. Here in the United States, early predictions are not so dramatic: President Bill Clinton will play the green card, but mostly it will languish in the middle of the deck, and his loudest noises will come from that popgun-slinging sidekick, Al Gore. Meanwhile, conservation groups with political arms, like the Sierra Club, will spend more dough on House races than in trying to re-elect Big Bill.
Not very inspiring, but basic political calculus says it could be so. For Clinton, a large obstacle between him and a second extra-large morning suit is the West, where taking clear stands on environmental issues can draw flak from many directions. Nationally, congressional Republicans have noticed that they pitched Clinton a Wiffle ball by attacking pollution laws too vigorously in '95 and are recalibrating. "We were way behind the curve" on the environment, Rob Hood, and aide to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said last fall. Does this mean Newt is about to start being extra cuddly? Uh, no. At the same time Gingrich began courting GOP moderates, his minions released a clunky list of tips for outspinning greens "and their extremist friends in the eco-terrorist underworld." (Like "door to door handing out [of] tree saplings.")
Of course, enviros know that Clinton's veto power helped save them from some crushing defeats in '95, so they aren't about to jilt him outright. But House races appear to be a priority, partly because the same amount of cash goes further than in a Senate race. Overall, green politicos hope to roast a few firebrands, protect moderates, and inch toward their goal--probably impossible this time--of taking back the House from Newt's beefy grip.