Slime Green: The Big Environmental Groups Help Clinton Sell Out

By Cockburn, Alexander; St. Clair, Jeffrey | The Progressive, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Slime Green: The Big Environmental Groups Help Clinton Sell Out


Cockburn, Alexander, St. Clair, Jeffrey, The Progressive


Back in June 1995 a fervent advertisement taken out by the Big Green groups ran in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Thank You, Mr. President, for Standing Tall! blared the banner. The text proclaimed that Bill Clinton deserved the gratitude of every environmentalist for refusing to bow "to the special interests who plunder our natural heritage and rob future generations of their legacy." Furious abuse of the Republicans in the 104th Congress took up much of the ad.

Prompting this costly spasm of congratulation was the mistaken belief that President Clinton had just vetoed the revised budget bill because it would unleash the timber companies into old-growth forests for the first time since the early Bush years, place them beyond the reach of any existing law or regulation, and render them immune to any challenge in the courts.

The Big Green groups were right about one thing. Clinton had vetoed the bill. But they didn't bother to read his explanation. It had nothing to do with trees.

Clinton was angry because the revised budget had slashed funding for his beloved AmeriCorps program. He said he couldn't wait to sign the bits of the bill aimed at increasing logging in the national forests and insisted proudly that "I've done more for logging than anyone else in the country."

So it came to pass that President Bill duly signed the logging exemption into law in July 1995 and the big, old trees began to fall.

One would have thought that the leaders of the green groups would have retired to the bathrooms of their plush executive suites in northwest Washington to sponge the egg off their faces.

Not so. Six months later, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, League of Conservation Voters, and several other groups paid for another spate of ads in The Washington Post, chorusing, Thank You, Mr. President, for Defending Our Environment.

The determination to greenwash Clinton would be comical if it did not reflect such a betrayal of everything the environmental movement should stand for. In a nationally covered episode in early February, John Flicker, freshly installed head of the National Audubon Society, made an unprecedented intrusion into the editorial processes of the Society's Audubon magazine and insisted that an article by former New York Times columnist Tom Wicker be killed. Wicker had made some very mild criticisms of Clinton, and Flicker feared that the article would damage his standing at the White House.

Since the day Clinton took office, the national green organizations have made it a concerted policy to condone if possible and conceal if necessary every environmental misdeed perpetrated by the President and his party. The normal justification for such a policy - that support extorts useful concessions - is inoperative in this case, since the record of the Big Green groups in winning any concession is an absolute zero.

The end result has been a confidence trick of truly gigantic proportions, played upon an unsuspecting public that has expressed very strong concern for maintaining, and even strengthening, environmental protections. Public sentiment on this issue has long been strong, according to polls.

Clinton's strategy has been to highlight the Republican ultras as looters and despoilers of God's creation, as opposed to the wise stewardship practiced by his Administration. Promotion of this myth has required the cooperation of the Big Green groups, a cooperation they have eagerly extended.

The official version of last year's political battles over the environment, due to be endlessly recycled through Campaign '96, goes something like this: As the Republican Visigoths swept into the 104th Congress in January 1995, trembling greens predicted that not an old-growth tree nor an endangered species would be spared. …

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