I've been a life-long Democrat because (at least in my mind), that's always been the party that has stood up for middle- and working-class people, as well as the poor and under-represented. I've begun to worry that my party is moving away from this role.
There's always been a far-left wing of the Democratic Party that has valued "the environment" over all else. For them, there's no human need that can trump the needs of an obscure species of spotted horned deer flies. The voices of that wing should certainly be heard. The problem is, they seem to be taking over the governance of the party.
We see the growing interest of the environmental left both locally and nationally. Locally, the City is poised to create a new "environmental justice" bureaucracy at the same time it faces a $20 million shortfall. Environmental justice is a real issue, and one that deserves attention. But the solutions are relatively easy: Council just needs clear zoning ordinances that prevent noxious, smoky factories from locating directly adjacent to residential (usually impoverished) neighborhoods. My concern here isn't about business vs. the environment. It's about people vs. the cost of the new proposal. It'll be a miracle is anything remains of the City's social services budget next year. There's almost no chance neighborhood pools will open next summer. So if I have a choice between creating an additional level of bureaucracy and letting poor kids swim, I'd choose the latter every time.
Nationally, the "Cash for Clunkers" program shows how the environmental left is pursuing its agenda at the expense of the working class. Here's how it works: the government will get old, lower-MPG cars off the road by offering owners a $4500 voucher towards a new car once they turn the old one in. The old car will not then be returned to the secondary market (e.g., used car dealerss, classified ads, etc.). But here's what people aren't talking about: most people don't buy cheap used cars because they want to. They buy them because that's what they can afford. Getting rid of the market for cheap used cars will hurt lower-middle class and poor people. So again, the environmental left values some unquantified benefit to the environment ahead of the needs of poor people, and has successfully codified this preference.
One of the major reasons the GOP is "wandering in the wilderness" is because it gave too much control over its agenda to the religious right. The party had become all about social issues--issues that, it turns out, don't matter to most voters during a weak economy. The "'small-l' libertarian" wing of the party began to abandon the GOP, and its apathy this past election cycle likely has a lot to do with the current composition of the government.
If the environmental left is permitted to dominate the Democratic party, it'll experience a similar fate. The populist wing of the party will abandon it (or simply stay home), and the party will lose its influence.
I'm not anti-environmentalism. I think recycling is a good thing. I'm in favor of finding ways to conserve energy. But it's hard to notice the environment if a person's basic needs aren't being met (think about Maslow's hierarchy). We shouldn't have to make choices between people and "the environment." But when the choice arises, let's make sure we choose the needs of people first, and strive--within that paradigm--to make the best choices possible for the environment.