The Failure Of Climate Change Legislation

If Theodore J. Lowi, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, teaching in the Government Department at Cornell University, one day decides to again update his classic study of American Government, End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States, he could find further validation for his book’s thesis in the compelling article by Ryan Lizza, "As The World Burns: How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with Climate Change", which appeared in New Yorker Magazine (October 11, 2010).  Mr. Lizza describes  how an unlikely coalition comprised of Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman (which came to be known as the "K.G.L") came tantalizingly close to putting together a bipartisan climate change bill, but failed in the end for several reasons. 

In End of Liberalism, Lowi examines how the American Republic has grown to gargantuan size without the necessary self-examination or  recognition that this growth has been fueled by delegation of power to interest groups. According to Lowi, Congress’s delegation of its responsibility to govern to administrative agencies has led in turn to an unwholesome process of accommodation in which regulatory agencies become virtual captives of interest groups.  Lowi called this tendency "clientelism".  New governmnental policies have only served to tighten the vice-like grip of interest groups over the machinery of government. 

In preparing his article, Mr. Llzza asked former Vice President Al Gore why he thought the K.G.L. climate change legislation  failed.  The first reason given was Republican partisanship; the second reason was the Great Recession.  However, Mr. Gore’s  third explanation for the legislation’s failure pinpointed how Kerry, Graham and Lieberman approached the issue and is emblematic of our Congress’ failure to take up necessary legislation in many areas, not merely in the environmental arena.  Mr. Gore stated:

 "The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level.  And it’s to the point where it’s virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change."

Professor Lowi, are you listening?