Hi, my name is Tom and I just bought my first hybrid.
When I told a good friend last week that I bought a hybrid vehicle, after a pause he blurted out, “But you’re a Republican! I didn’t think that was something you could do without someone ripping up your membership card.” He was just busting my chops, but perhaps only half kidding.
It’s as stark as the foot of new-fallen snow in my yard that Republicans and Conservatives have a massive perception problem when it comes to environmental policy. No RNC committee of consultants is necessary know that.
True, the environment is not the driver of voter intent that Liberals like to make it out to be. In fact, a late January poll by Quinnipiac University found that environmental issues ranked 14th with only 1 percent of those polled stating it should be a priority for the president and Congress. As long as this recovery is flat and unemployment is high, it will continue to remain out of the top 10.
Regardless, Republicans have a well-known empathy gap with Democrats that I believe is real in the minds of voters. Liberals have driven the perception of the “uncaring GOP” for too long to ignore. Closing the empathy gap is a much larger issue for Conservatives and Republicans than simply debunking the Democrats’ so-called “war on women” and paying much needed attention to issues impacting minorities.
How people view Republicanism vis-à-vis the environment is part of the problem and how we change those opinions is more about a gradual adjustment than some unworkable piece of legislation in Washington.
I don’t expect the GOP establishment inside the Beltway to do anything about this problem. While I do believe that Republican officials should weave free-market, growth-centered environmental messages into their agenda, an establishment effort actually would look as contrived and forced as immigration reform.
In this Nov. 18, 2010 file photo, Fisker Automotive's Fisker Karma, a sports luxury plug-in hybrid car, sits on display at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles. Fisker says Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, it is recalling the Karma sedan to fix cooling fans that can catch fire. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
This is more about people. It’s important for individuals who happen to be Republicans and Conservatives to subtly drive the message that Americans can protect about the environment while ensuring we can grow our economy. Leading by example in small ways in our daily lives and not being shy about discussing those practices with friends, family, neighbors and colleagues will over time give others a sense that rank and file Republicans don’t want people to drink arsenic from oil-slicked waters laced with PCB.
Personal example is a powerful thing. It’s a critical tool as we seek to counter Liberal propaganda and more importantly protect freedom in the face of runaway government.
I don’t profess to be a big “greenie,” but my house is full of LED and CFL light bulbs. My heater is a high-energy efficiency model. I properly inflate my tires, turn off unused electronics and unplug small appliances, much to my wife’s chagrin. I’m getting better at recycling and more to reduce consumption. In fact, I know many people of all political stripes that are doing the same. Those efforts are better and more effective than any new oppressive government regulation.
(Photo: AP/Paul Sakuma)
The environment isn’t an issue that belongs to Democrats. It’s an American concern and in a nation where people are ingrained with a larger sense of purpose, their stewardship of the environment often comes naturally albeit in varying degrees. It’s doesn’t suddenly manifest itself because the president gives a speech, the Congress passes a law or the United Nations says we should care more.
It’s also market-driven.
What Conservatives understand that Liberals don’t is that it’s okay to approach protecting the planet from the standpoint of some return on investment other than just “saving the planet.” There’s more to the decision-making process than just the environment. People will buy something that makes sense for their needs and their wallet. It’s not that they innately don’t want to help protect the environment. They do, but it’s not the principal driver of their behavior.
Car makers from Ford and Lincoln to Cadillac to BMW are making hybrid cars consumers will actually want to buy. Some are even reducing or eliminating the premium price of these models. Consumers are demonstrating the resiliency and adaptability of the American free market. The free market is also fueling an evolution in the way we determine return on investment when making a purchase, integrating the environment with more direct personal benefits. It’s a Conservative message worth sending now more than ever.
Cars move over the Golden Gate Bridge in California. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A report this month from the Manhattan Institute gives all of us a roadmap for a cleaner, more efficient future while not interfering with the free market or risking the imposition of draconian regulations on our daily lives. The study, by the Institute’s Center for Energy Policy and the Environment, showed that the European Union's heavy-handed environmental regulations have produced a rise in residential electrical rates of 55 percent and a jump in electric rates of 26 percent between 2005 and 2013. Here’s the kicker – for all the European Union's mandates and the resulting impact on costs, carbon emissions in the U.S. have fallen more than those in Europe.
According the Institute’s Robert Bryce, California offers us a domestic example of “what not to do.” The Golden State’s renewables mandates, cap-and-trade program and forceful promotion of solar power have pushed electricity prices far higher than the national average in recent years. Following the European model, Bryce suggests would drive up domestic electrical prices nearly 30 percent per household per month.
With the president’s sweeping use of executive authority coming under increased scrutiny, the government promulgating historic levels of regulations and the UN - with John Podesta’s help - crafting new global standards for consumption and carbon emissions, now is the time to start carrying a message about the proven power of the free market – and free-thinking Americans – to protect our environment.
So Republicans, get a hybrid and drive it proudly.
[sharequote align="center"]Buy a hybrid because it makes good economic sense. That’s Conservative.[/sharequote]
If a Prius is a little too hippie-granola for you, there are plenty of options out there now that are bigger, more powerful, more comfortable and look a heck of a lot better. Don’t buy one just because you think it will save the world or so you can drive around fueled by some need to show others you are doing something selfless. Liberals do that.
Buy one because you like it. Buy one because it makes good economic sense. Buy one because it’s better for your driving needs – and is better for the environment in the process. That’s Conservative.
It may surprise some, but the expansion of hybrid car options is confirmation that free-market Conservatism works. After all, you don’t have to buy one at all. Go get that Suburban or Expedition or whatever living room on wheels you want to drive.
It’s a free country – for the time being.
Like the old Esso advertisements used to say - Happy Motoring.
Thomas J. Basile is Contributor to The Blaze and national political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @TJBasile.
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