Wrong-Headed and "Half-Assed," Graham Caves When Real Leadership Is Needed

06/17/2010 11:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Burns Strider Founder Eleison Group, President American Values Network and Senior Advisor to Chair of American Bridge

America has often been the leader in innovation and the driving force of change throughout our history. One of the pressing issues of our time is climate change, and as South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said in the past, "We refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change." In a political era fraught with extreme partisanship and a 24/7 news cycle contributing to the polarization, it was exciting to see an elected official stand up for what he believes in even if it diverged from his party's status quo.

Unfortunately, as this new ad by the American Values Network demonstrates, in the last month Sen. Graham has changed his tune. All the reasons Sen. Graham supported climate legislation haven't changed, just his willingness to stand by them.

Senator Graham recognized the urgency of the climate change issue and the many consequences that will result if we don't take action. These consequences include threatening our national security, as we send "nearly $800 million a day to sometimes-hostile oil-producing countries." Failing to do anything about climate change also threatens our economic security, as Graham has pointed out one example of how China is dominating the green economy. Indeed, President Obama recognized this as well, saying in his address from the Oval office last night that "countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America."

Ultimately, doing something about climate change is a moral imperative, as the negative consequences from doing nothing most negatively affects the poor and will leave our children in a world of trouble. On the other hand, the benefits of passing climate change legislation are numerous.

These include, but are not limited to, the creation of millions of new jobs through investing in renewable energy, sustaining our leadership in the new world economy, improving national security and cleaning up the air to improve environmental and health standards around the world.

Comprehensive and extensive climate change legislation needs to be passed in order to achieve these desired ends. Creating and passing such legislation is going to require politicians to work across the aisle, despite the partisan environment. As Senator Graham said, "We can't be a nation that always tries and fails... we have to eventually get some hard problem right." It appeared for some time that Senator Graham was going to be the man who was going to step up and be the leader in the effort to pass this crucial legislation.

Unfortunately, for Graham, and for every American, he has retracted his support for the comprehensive climate change legislation he developed with Senator Kerry and instead has lent his support to what he himself called a "half-assed" energy bill.

America used to be leading the world in innovation and in responding and adapting to how the world is changing. This is because there were men and women who were willing to take the risk to fight for what they believe in, no matter what the consequence. How long will America stay in the dark? How long must we wait for politics to be put aside and for a leader to step up to respond to the climate change crisis?

As Graham said, "We can either be followers or leaders." What will it be Senator?

(Andrew Robinson, a 2010 Fellow at the American Values Network, contributed in researching and drafting this piece. Robinson, a Hillsborough, NJ native, is a senior at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA where he is receiving dual degrees in Political Science and Religion.)