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Rhetorical Recap: Green Lantern

The sun was out, announced Washington State governor Jay Inslee as he took the stage, a good sign for a campaign with the slogan “Our Moment” and a singular devotion to the issue of climate change. But since the venue was inside a solar energy factory instead of outside, we couldn’t see that it was indeed “our hour to shine.”

Inslee did his best to get viewers to take his word for it. He sported a green tie. He spoke of America as the can-do nation. The American Dream myth he invoked was the story of skyscraper builders and right-stuff astronauts. Inslee’s tale befit historian Daniel Boorstin’s nation of inventors or, as we now say, innovators. Boorstin’s book celebrating tinkerers and entrepreneurs was published in 1973, at an apogee of the myth’s popularity, four years after the moon landing. Inslee wants to fast-forward it half a century on the strength of his congeniality and his record as governor. His mission for the nation is to “defeat” climate change, which sounds more achievable than halting the planetary slide toward multi-species extinction. The threat seems less terrifying couched as a competition, a space race of another kind. Inslee is a kindler, gentler Al Gore.

He outlined four principles of this national project; they had the effect of tucking other issues into the eco-challenge. First came the direct goal of attaining a zero carbon economy, the moon being shot at without a date certain articulated. Second, as others have stated, the effort will create millions of good paying green jobs. Third, Inslee said he wants the nation to “create a just transition” away from fossil-fuel energy, by which he meant a program that did not add suffering to communities of color near which too many polluting power plants have been sited. And fourth, the Washington DC “gravy train” of giveaways and subsidies to coal and oil must be stopped (or, perhaps, diverted to the sun and wind track). Finally, unnumbered yet mentioned, Inslee professed a related foreign policy principle: “wars for oil must be over.”

The governor has built a progressive record in a state with an expanding economy thanks to its being the home of Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks. Washington state also benefits from rivers that generate hydroelectric power. Given this context, it is somewhat of a liability to his argument that he failed to persuade the state’s legislators and then its voters to enact a carbon tax.

Inslee needs to do something superheroic to vault into the top tier of candidates. He needs to show he can budge the boulders obstructing his path to climate change. Harnessing one of the state-based mega-companies to the cause would help. An alliance with Tom Steyer might stake him to outlast other candidates. Inslee’s policy on accepting PAC contributions is a yes and no; he has a PAC of his own and won’t take corporate donations per se, but he could and would accept money from executives and employees thereof.

Like Julian Castro, Jay Inslee at this juncture shapes up more as a possible vice-presidential selection than a candidate with a good chance at the nomination.

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