There is a true, empirical, universal, statistical generalization that the Republican Party should understand if it expects to attract the American middle class. This generalization is especially applicable to college educated, well-off voters, the opinion leaders in most communities. Here it is: Accomplished, successful individuals normally become Green.
In economic terms the demand for environmental quality, like that for gourmet food, foreign travel, and BMWs, is a superior good. This means that as people move up in income and education, their environmental concerns and interests grow even faster. On the margins, environmental sensitivities trump prosaic and mundane practical concerns as people mature and succeed.
Simply stated, members of the upper middle class are likely to be environmentally sensitive. A political party that gratuitously alienates these voters is opportunistic and silly, indeed stupid. Anyone identified with anti-environmental media celebrities is burdened by this affiliation. I’m thinking primarily of Rush Limbaugh. Rush is not alone in this category, merely the most prominent and outspoken.
While he has no official position in the Republican Party, Rush is widely viewed as an influential spokesman for the Party and is influential upon it. Sources ranging from NPR to The New Republic credit him with significant de facto leadership. And conservative intellectual David Frum wrote: “President Obama and Rush Limbaugh do not agree on much, but they share at least one thing: Both wish to see Rush anointed as the leader of the Republican Party.”
I occasionally listen to Limbaugh while driving for I find him entertaining even when he is annoying. (I always stay tuned in, however, if economist Walter Williams is substituting.) I’ve heard Rush enough to pick up a pattern; he seems incapable of saying “environmentalist” without following with “wacko.” In his lexicon, “wacko” is a necessary modifier of the class of people who consider themselves environmentalists.
Here is an egregious example: he suggested that environmentalist wackos may have blown up the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. On May 1, the website “ecopolitology” reported, “Limbaugh suggested that because the Senate may soon be considering climate and energy legislation, legislation that Limbaugh claims was going to be unveiled on Earth Day, environmentalists could be trying to call attention to their cause by observing the 40th anniversary of Earth Day by blowing up the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Some may find Limbaugh’s reported position funny but it is destructive and simply nuts. So is the Republican Party if it doesn’t repudiate such speculations and produce constructive alternatives. Fortunately for them, and for America, this is happening.
Terry Maple is an internationally respected Ph.D. zoologist. He and Republican strategist, Newt Gingrich, published A Contract with the Earth with John Hopkins Press in 2007. Harvard ecologist E.O. Wilson wrote the book’s forward saying the authors “define the environmental challenge as far more than just averting disaster. They envision it as an opportunity to strengthen America, to sustain its economic and intellectual leadership, and not the least, to unify it in moral purpose.... Green is good, they say, when it serves the commonwealth in accordance with the ideals that made this nation great.”
Maple and Gingrich have a new book project, The Entrepreneurial Environmentalist. They “believe that environmentalists with an entrepreneurial foundation are poised to lead a new generation of environmental innovation. Indeed, many of our most vexing and complex environmental problems can only be solved by entrepreneurial environmentalists.”
They’re right. Successful entrepreneurs are chefs who create new and better dishes from ingredients and combinations not previously realized. They provide the closest thing we have to a free lunch, responding quickly to changing science and tastes. They produce additional social value by identifying new opportunities and motivating and mobilizing action. In these ways, for-profit firms and voluntary grass roots organizations foster our environmental goals.
I suggest Rush’s program underwriters explain this to him lest alienated Green voters whack Republicans.