On Wednesday, new polling came out showing that 49 percent of the American public now disapproves of the job President Obama is doing, matching his lowest approval ratings during the last two years.
Lack of faith in the health care law and frustration with the ongoing stagnation of the economy are two of the reasons for the lack of support, but one thing in particular seems to be truly irking the body politic: the complete and utter dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
While many people are frustrated with President Obama's job performance, it's nothing compared to the all-out disgust that they have for Congress, and especially Congressional Republicans. Nearly three-quarters of Americans disapprove of the GOP members in Congress and nine out of ten want Congress to avoid a government shutdown.
With this sort of landscape, what's a president to do with a key decision like whether or not to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline?
If the White House was making the decision solely on the scientific evidence against the project, the pipeline would have been rejected long ago. The nation's top climate scientists have repeatedly written to the president urging him to reject the project because of the impacts it will have on the climate, not to mention the risk of spills, local air pollution, wildlife impacts, and other problems that come with ramming a 1,700 mile pipeline through the heart of America.
But Keystone XL has become a political decision, and the White House is clearly weighing the electoral implications of the project as the State Department wraps up its final assessment of the pipeline and the decision heads to the President's desk.
When it comes to politics, the answer on Keystone XL is as clear as the science: reject this pipeline.
The Republicans have seized onto Keystone XL as one of their top priorities and continue to posture and play games in Congress to try and force approval. The latest trick is a bogus attempt to attach pipeline approval to the budget negotiations -- because clearly it's worth shutting down the entire U.S. government so a Canadian company can profit from building an export pipeline that will only create 30 permanent American jobs.
If Obama approved the project now, it would look like he was caving to pressure from Congressional Republicans -- the same Congressional Republicans who 75 percent of the country think are taking America in the wrong direction. Approval would make the president look weak-kneed and spineless, just when he's trying to look more strong and commanding. It would be giving a major handout to the very people who are trying to take him down. And it would show the American people that Democratic leaders would rather play games inside the beltway then stand up for the values they say they believe in -- remember, this is the president who said that he would "end the tyranny of oil" and "slow the rise of the oceans" during his administration.
And if caving to Congressional Republicans wasn't bad enough, a decision to greenlight the pipeline would also look like President Obama was bowing down to pressure from the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a George Bush-style oilman who has transformed our friendly Northern neighbor into more of a petrostate, complete with crackdowns on scientific freedom, attacks on indigenous rights, and pressure campaigns against environmental organizations. Not exactly a progressive leader to be aligning oneself with.
Finally, a Keystone XL approval would be a major give away to the very corporations that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to stymie the president and take down the Democratic party and their allies: the fossil fuel industry. President Obama likes rallying crowds against the Koch Brothers. As it turns out, they have a major stake in Keystone XL and would make huge profits off the project. And since Keystone XL would help dramatically expand tar sands production (why do you think the industry and PM Harper are pushing so hard for it?), the fossil fuel bonanza wouldn't stop there. Approving the pipeline wouldn't just pump more carbon into the atmosphere, it would pump more money directly into the pockets of Obama's greatest enemies.
Keystone XL has emerged as the biggest environmental fight of this generation. Young people have mobilized on hundreds of college campuses across the country to protest the project and the fossil fuel industry that's promoting it. Last February, over 40,000 people came to Washington, D.C. to push the president to take the nation "Forward on Climate" and stop Keystone XL. To borrow a phrase, the fight against Keystone XL has gotten the climate movement fired up and ready to go.
Whether we're ready to go work with the president to secure his climate legacy by building out a clean energy economy that can create jobs here in America or whether we're ready to go get arrested back at the White House and fight tooth and nail to stop Keystone XL even if it gets presidential approval -- over 75,000 people have committed to take part in acts of civil disobedience to block the project -- is up to the White House.
Keystone XL is a clear test of President Obama's commitment to his values and to the principles that he ran on. Caving now wouldn't just be a bad decision for the environment, it would leave a stain on the Presidency and the president himself. We sincerely hope he does the right thing.
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