Among environmental activists, Ed Markey occupies a special place.
To many people who genuinely care about the environment but are called to work for a better world in other spheres, this reverence may seem odd or misplaced. I will try to explain.
I have done environmental advocacy, communications, and research for my entire career, more or less. I did do a stint with a general-government NGO a while back, but even there I staffed the group’s energy committee.
Most of this work has been related to energy and the environment, though my current job is about water.
The real deal from way back
In the 1980s, I lived in Portsmouth, NH, and worked for a grass-roots environmental group. I could not tell you today the name of my congressional representative (from NH 1CD), but at the time I felt as though Markey, from Mass., was my rep.
He was outspoken and really understood the issues. He did not care if his advocacy for clean energy earned him any brownie points, or if his outspoken criticism of the brain-dead bipartisan “all of the above” energy waffle disrupted the conventional wisdom.
This was the ’80s; Republicans were in the White House and we all needed to compromise, compromise, compromise; who was going to listen to Markey?
Markey has other gifts, and is more than a Jeremiah, but back then his willingness to tell the truth laid the foundation for today’s environmental movement, and the Green New Deal as a credible mainstream idea. He helped open the Overton window.
I remember feeling real disappointment in the 90s when Markey pivoted to telecommunications. Who would fill his environmental shoes, especially on energy? But he did not abandon that portfolio, even as he developed expertise that would make him a leading advocate of net neutrality.
Environmental activists know and respect Markey for his decades of solid work on our issues. This is a small group, so not a ton of votes here.
So-called “environmental voters,” though sincere in their concerns about climate change and other environmental issues, may not appreciate the singular role that Markey has played over decades. That is unfortunate.
But to those who know, when Joe Kennedy tries to reposition the Green New Deal as a sort of nice but impotent virtue-signaling that lacks actual meaning, he is undermining an important tool for mobilizing public opinion and winning the fight.
He’s willing to do that as a way to cut Markey down and improve Kennedy’s chances in the primary.
When he attacks Markey for not saving the planet—not “getting things done”—it is like attacking John Lewis for not ending racism.
The race (and a little venting)
I could go on at length and probably bore the pants off of all of you. But I have to say this.
This is all on Kennedy. Had he gone after Markey from the left, I would have been compelled to take him seriously, Markey’s singular history above notwithstanding. That would have required real courage.
Instead he elected to attack from the right, though under a gauzy “generational change” theme in the spirit of Seth Moulton’s challenge to Nancy Pelosi.
At this point, I do not just favor Markey over Kennedy. I am angry at Kennedy’s opportunism.
I hope I am never in the position of “having” to vote for him; baring disastrous political exigencies (such as keeping the Senate), I never will.
I certainly did not feel that way about him before this campaign.
If Kennedy loses this race, I might find a way to forgive him, eventually. Not so if he wins.