Usually, I roll my eyes when Democratic politicians like Barack and Hillary ooze on about “bipartisanship.” That word suggests wimpy centrism, and politics drained of essence. Anyone who takes issues seriously should be willing to believe in something, and should welcome a little partisan conflict. All that said, it is good to see politicians as different as Trent Lott (the Republican from Mississippi who infamously praised segregation four years ago, when he didn’t think anyone was listening) and Frank Lautenberg (a New Jersey Democrat), working together to save our nation’s flailing train system. This week, the odd couple proposed authorizing $3.2 billion a year to Amtrak, for six years, in exchange for greater efficiency and greater investment by states. Given the fervor of justified concern about global warming, this effort couldn’t be more timely. Trains are far better for the environment than cars or planes, yet our train system works so poorly that too few people are able to use it. Amtrak is slow, too expensive and often doesn’t go where you need to go. A better train system could help us reduce carbon emissions and also lead a better quality of life, allowing us to spend more of our time taking in the scenery at leisure or reading, rather than sitting in traffic cursing our fellow citizens.
But let’s not get too excited about bipartisanship. Speaking of climate change, there are a number of legislative strategies emerging, thanks to political shifts in Washington and increased public worry about the creepy warm winter. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times points out today that of the three Senate sponsors of the most prominent (and probably most politically viable) global-warming bill, two are presidential hopefuls: Barack Obama and John McCain (the other is Joe Lieberman). But, as the Times reports, that bill includes easily abused loopholes that could ease carbon emissions limits “if their impact on the economy were deemed too severe.” Deemed by whom, I wonder? The auto industry? The Cato Institute? Another bill, supported by Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, is far more stringent. But it’s important to note that, according to an analysis by the World Resources Institute published as a sidebar to Revkin’s article, even with the Sanders-Boxer bill, emissions won’t begin to decline until 2010, and temperatures wouldn’t stabilize until around 2150! So Sanders-Boxer should obviously be the starting point for further action, not a utopian left-wing impossibility. Under the more moderate Obama-McCain-Joe bill, progress would be much slower. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend my golden years underwater just because a few ambitious politicians wanted to grandstand without seeming to be anti-business. Sorry to be a downer — I know people like to get excited about somebody — but that includes political rock star Barack Obama.