A Candid Assessment of Some Presidential Candidates

Dear Friends,

Remember how the Republican field shifted in the 2012 and 2016 Iowa Caucuses? The lead changed so many times that emergency rooms across Iowa saw a drastic increase in whiplash cases.

Ok, I made that last part up. But seriously, remember one-time 2012 front runner Herman Cain? I didn’t think so. How about 2016 flash-in-the-pack leader Ben Carson? Or shoe-in-for-the-nomination Scott Walker? And oh, how I miss Michele Bachmann.

The horde of Democrats running for president this year may or may not experience the same level of volatility, but we’ve already witnessed some surprises. A year ago, how many of us had even heard of …

PETE BUTTIGIEG? This spring, polls had Buttigieg running third among Iowa Caucus-goers. He’s now fourth, and downward may well be his trajectory. Buttigieg is a captivating speaker. But my guess is he was Iowa Democrats’ first flavor of the month. With so many flavors to choose from and voters hungry for change, another new and exciting prospect is likely to slip past Buttigieg. But, it won’t be …

JOE BIDEN. Name recognition has carried Biden thus far, but his descent has begun. There’s more and more chatter about the astounding inconsistencies between Biden’s past record and his rapid transition to progressive policy advocate. Case in point: Biden’s excellent climate plan, which magically morphed out of his intent to find “middle ground” on climate. How’d that happen? Simple: Biden’s advisors discovered that a milktoast climate strategy would bomb with the base. So they quickly retooled and spit out a plan that looked, well, remarkably like the progressive climate proposals of other candidates.

Few Iowans are fooled. Besides Biden’s climate-plan flip-flop, his recent boast about US oil production hangs around his neck like an endangered albatross (sad but true, Climate Change Threatens Survival of Albatross):

“The United States is soon going to be the largest producer of energy of any nation in the world by the end of the 2020s.” — Joe Biden, May 1, 2019, Des Moines, Iowa

Ouch. My prediction: 2020 will be the third time Joe Biden fails in a presidential primary. Meanwhile, on the other side of the sincerity spectrum …

BERNIE SANDERS. Sanders inspires like no other candidate. It’s not just his rhetoric. It’s his consistency over the years. Unlike Biden, Sanders means what he says. His 2016 campaign changed the debate, forcing even Hillary Clinton to pretend she was progressive. Sanders’ 2016 message has set the tone for 2020.

Yet … the Sanders campaign claims to have 24,000 volunteers. Where are they? This army of believers had better deploy soon because Sanders can’t simply do well in Iowa. He has to win Iowa. No doubt, die-hard Sanders supporters will turn out to caucus for him even in a polar-vortex-induced blizzard with a windchill of -79°F. (That is, in fact, the coldest windchill I’ve experienced in Iowa. Take note, campaign workers from milder climes.)

Sanders essentially tied Clinton in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. But he should have won. In various other states, we can blame the Democratic Establishment for stacking the deck against Sanders. But not Iowa. Here, Sanders has only himself to blame for not beating Clinton, as I recall story after story of wannabe volunteers drooling to help but unable to get even a response from Sanders’ people.

His campaign needs to figure out a way for that not to happen again. Logging 24,000 volunteers on paper is one thing. Effectively managing them in the field is a whole ‘nuther ball game.

The even bigger challenge for Sanders is that most of those who supported him in 2016 seem willing to give other candidates a serious look. Maybe it’s not too late for Sanders to bring a majority of his 2016 supporters home, but the competition is stiff, especially …

ELIZABETH WARREN. Who knew that Iowa Caucus-goers actually cared about issues? Well, yeah, we do — and Warren is proving it. She’s strong on policy with a solid track record to back it up. Despite what the Establishment would have you believe, issues matter, both in the primary and general elections.

Warren’s star continues to rise, and not just because of her strength on policy. She’s running the ground game that Sanders failed to fully mobilize in 2016 and has yet to mobilize this time around. Warren also has survived a few bumps, and that bodes well for her durability.

But this election season is still young. Plenty of candidates are poised to see their prospects improve, such as …

ANDREW YANG. No one does a better job at messaging their uniqueness than Yang. He’s built a deep following nationally, and his peeps are all over social media. Criticize their man and the Yang Gang’s cyber-hammer comes down hard. I’ve got 60+ communiques to prove it.

Political capital has a lot to do with momentum, and Yang is building it slowly and steadily. He’s poised to be the flavor of the month, though I’m not sure he can ride that wave to a top-three, or even top-five, finish in Iowa. As good as he is, there is one candidate who has Yang beat when it comes to clever and creative, and that is …

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND. Many have written off Gillibrand. That’s a mistake. If I were to vote for a candidate for president based on the desire to have someone fun in the White House, it’d be Gillibrand. The Ranch dressing thing. The dressing like a drag queen thing. Beating the ISU student in arm wrestling. What’s not to love about all that in a world leader? “My president is stronger than your president and looks great in drag.” Gillibrand would restore America’s credibility on the world stage in ways Donald Trump could never imagine.

Gillibrand is no policy schlep either. When pushed by Bold Iowa’s bird dogs to feature climate more prominently on her website, she did it — immediately! Her embrace of the urgency of the climate crisis speaks well of her policy priorities.

But when it comes to climate, one candidate has Gillibrand and all the others beat …

JAY INSLEE. Not only is Inslee laser-beam focused on climate, as Governor of Washington he’s got a solid record of action to back it up. Given that the climate crisis is Democratic voters’ top concern and that the impacts of climate change are likely to increase over the summer and fall, Inslee should see his stock rise. But he needs a ground game in Iowa. He needs to talk more about his track record on a range of issues and what he would do to address them as president.

Finally, Inslee — and all the candidates — must address the one consideration on voters’ minds even more pressing than climate. That is …

WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP? Trump will only be defeated by a candidate who can’t be pegged to the status quo. That rules out Biden. It’s remarkable to me, astounding in fact, that anyone still believes that a self-described “centrist” (read “corporate-friendly”) Democrat stands a chance against the madcap faux populism of Crazy Uncle Donald. Fretting over the criteria of electability fed to us by insider pundits who take their orders from the Establishment will give us the same result we got in 2016.

You want electability? Nominate a candidate who’s a decent person, whose rhetoric and record on key issues is strong and consistent, and who demonstrates a solid commitment to tackling the existential threat of climate change. That’s how we beat Donald Trump and assure leadership in the White House that represents the public interest, not the corporate thugs who’ve held sway over America for far too long.

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Apology is O’Rourke’s path out of climate contradiction

Dear Friends,

Six Bold Climate Bird Dogs arrived at Beto O’Rourke’s CNN town hall last week with great expectations. O’Rourke had just released a climate plan that generated much excitement. He talked about climate during his recent Iowa tour and the plan is featured prominently on his website.

Beto O’Rourke speaking at his Climate Change Roundtable in Des Moines on May 6, 2019. Photo by Shari Hrdina

Forty-five minutes into the CNN town hall, Terrance Pendleton asked O’Rourke a general question about climate. That was followed by Patrick Bourgeacq’s more specific inquiry into O’Rourke’s past donations from fossil-fuel interests and his pro-oil-industry votes while in Congress.

O’Rourke responded adequately, then something unexpected happened. Moderator Dana Bash picked up where Bourgeacq left off. She pushed O’Rourke about his controversial 2015 vote to support lifting the ban on crude oil exports.

[Historical perspective: On October 9, 2015, the US House voted to lift the 40-year ban on crude oil exports during the heat of the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). That wasn’t a coincidence. DAPL was never about US oil independence. It was about selling fracked oil to the highest bidder. DAPL officials assured us that the oil running through Iowa was for domestic consumption. Lifting the ban on crude oil exports exposed the company’s lie. O’Rourke voted for the bill and it was signed into law by President Obama — a bipartisan betrayal of the greater public good.]

O’Rourke’s response to Dana Bash is worth viewing. As I watched the exchange live, I was wishing O’Rourke and I could talk casually over a pint of Guinness, something along these lines (O’Rourke’s quotes taken directly from his responses at the forum):

Me: “You honestly think voting to let a few rich guys sell US oil overseas makes sense?”

Beto: “Yes, I’m happy with that vote.”

Me: “Ouch. It’s just hard to see how someone who understands the urgency of the climate crisis, someone who just released a progressive, far-reaching plan to fight it, doesn’t regret a vote that clearly takes us in the wrong direction, takes us, in fact, one step closer to extinction.”

Beto“Look, I drove here tonight in a Dodge Grand Caravan that is burning gasoline.”

Me: “Please, Beto. You’re better than that. I’m so over climate deniers and other detractors calling me a hypocrite because I arrive at a pipeline protest in rural Iowa by car. Sorry, the bus and train aren’t running today.”

Beto“I want to make sure that we’re independent of the need to obtain those fossil fuels from the Middle East or Venezuela.”

Me: “Whoa. Stop right there, Beto. The legislation you supported had nothing to do with making America independent of foreign oil. It was simply about letting rich oil tycoons get even richer at the expense of our land, water, property rights, and climate. Come on, you know that!”

Beto“I’d rather those jobs and that exploration take place here in this country to satisfy our energy needs and the energy needs around the world.”

Me: “So, you’re admitting you’re ok with our land being exploited to satisfy the rest of the world’s thirst for oil? Look, if that’s your perspective on climate, it puts you on the same page as Joe Biden. Sorry, that’s not the kind of Democrat I’m interested in supporting.”

Beto“I’d love to toughen EPA standards to make sure we’re doing this in the most environmentally sound way.”

Me: “No, no, no! There’s no environmentally sound way to exploit, transport, refine, and burn oil. Dang, Beto, look at your plan! It’s spot on. Yet defending your 2015 vote on the export ban says to Iowans that you don’t really get it.

“Here’s my advice: Admit that your vote was wrong. Apologize to the Iowa farmers, landowners, and Native communities directly impacted by the pipeline. Apologize to Earth for driving another nail into an unsustainable climate future. Then perhaps, after a thorough and sincere mea culpa, Iowans will take your climate plan seriously.

“Otherwise, Beto, people see your jumping on the climate bandwagon as pure political posturing. I wanna believe it isn’t. I wanna believe you mean every word of it, and that one of the first things you’ll do to steer America on the road to a fossil-fuel-free future is to shut down DAPL and all the pipelines causing so much immediate harm and doing so much long-term damage.

“Yup,” I’d say as I chug the final swig of my Guinness. “The only way out of your dilemma is through contrition. But it has to be sincere, because one thing Iowans are skilled at is seeing through a phony. I, for one, wanna believe you’re the real deal and that you’ll deliver on your climate plan. Prove me right and the next pint is on me. And you might even get my vote.”

— Ed Fallon

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Presidential candidate climate flow chart

Dear Friends, Bird Dogs, Penguins, and assorted Climate Patriots,

The last couple weeks have seen a whirlwind of activity. There are now 236 Iowans signed up to bird-dog presidential candidates. Caucus goers probing candidates on climate change have literally been everywhere!

Doug Fuller with Marianne Williamson at Enchanted Mystical Boutique

Charles Goldman and I discuss some of these interactions on this week’s Fallon Forum. Check out our conversations about Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. Also, we dig into how bailouts have been, well, nothing more than badly-targeted socialism. And Charles, donning his pretty green medical scrubs, queries, “Is Obamacare now officially on life support?”

Sid Barfoot questions Eric Swalwell in a one-on-one situation.

Back to the presidential campaign and the relentless efforts of bird dogs, penguins, and assorted climate patriots. Our work is absolutely helping to elevate the conversation about climate change nationally — even making the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

With the knowledge that saving the world doesn’t have to be gloom and doom, Randall Damon came up with this entertaining and instructive flow chart for how to determine if a presidential candidate is truly up to the task of being the climate leader humanity needs. Feel free to share, with attribution.

Thanks again for caring about our world, our future, and what’s left of the public airwaves. — Ed

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