In April of 2006, amidst the Iraq war, spiking gas prices, and heightening concerns of global warming, George W. Bush put forth what sounded like a reasonable proposal to address all three issues. He suggested a three-pronged approach, centered on pushing corn-based ethanol biofuel. Bush said in his speech, “Amazing, isn’t it? Without much cost, your automobile can be converted to be able to burn fuel with 85 percent ethanol or a product made from corn grown right here in America.” He espoused that corn-based ethanol was both good for the environment and good for the economy, reducing our gasoline consumption while increasing the agricultural demand of America’s Heartland.
In theory, what’s not to love about a fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline, and whose little carbon emissions are sequestered through its subsequent production? Turns out, quite a lot. Underneath the green veneer lay a fetid pool of corruption. Corn diverted from food to fuel production helped drive price increases to that staple, contributing to a worldwide food crisis, especially devastating to the urban poor of developing nations. Environmentally, the cleaner burn is offset by the dirty fuel sources used during production. Soil erosion and water contamination are endemic, outweighing corn ethanol’s benefits.
In other words, corn-based ethanol is one of the biggest grifts of the 21st century. It was marketed to the left as a pragmatic solution to climate change, and to the right as a patriotic recommitment to America’s farmers and freeing us from the foreign influence of oil-producing nations. Yet, it’s done nothing but devastate economies and ecosystems, while endangering our very survival as species by tricking the populace into thinking the US was seriously addressing global warming.
A Bipartisan Grift
Do note that we were sold this snake oil not only by George W Bush, but also subsequently by Barack Obama. Former President Obama showed his support for corn ethanol in 2008. He further expanded corn subsidies in 2014 (in a bill that also cut food stamps).
Corn has thus become a symbol of a particularly insidious type of political deceit, used when a crisis is best solved through means that would significantly disrupt the status quo, costing corporate donors enough money to rally behind a “pragmatic” solution, which sacrifices some short term profits for long term viability.
A prime example of “corncobbery”, if you will, took place a few weeks ago in California, when the legislature rushed through AB398, an extension of an existing cap-and-trade law, with little time for public debate. A corncob, masquerading as Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, praised the passage of the bill as a bipartisan accomplishment, calling unmitigated climate change “the end of the world as we know it.” Yet, the bill he promoted to avert such a disastrous future was opposed by over fifty environmental groups in the state.
As with the advancement of corn-based ethanol, the extension of California’s cap-and-trade of carbon emissions has a shiny surface, which belies a dirty underbelly. In AB398, communities hit hardest by pollution, which are often the poorest, lose the local control to regulate emissions in their areas. Rather than setting a floor for carbon credit prices, the bill sets a ceiling, significantly jeopardizing California’s ability to reach its long-term emission goals. The bill is basically everything Western States Petroleum could have wanted.
The corncob wing of the California Democratic Party sold out its constituents, and that of the national party plans to do the same once again in 2020 through the anointment of Kamala Harris. In April, Harris warned the progressives of her party that they cannot be purists. She argued that it is better to agree with someone half the time than live under the rule of those with whom you always disagree. This disingenuous statement begs the question that there is even 50% agreement between progressives and corncob politicians.
During platform debates, they demand we meet them halfway. When it’s time to execute the platform, they still demand further compromise. Universal healthcare is literally in the California Democratic Party platform. They still killed SB562, the single payer bill supported by 70% of the state, even with the Democrats maintaining a supermajority.
The corncob wing emerged on top from the 2016 Democratic primary and subsequently lost to the worst candidate of American history. They cannot reliably win in the future, as not enough people are believing the lies of seemingly pragmatic solutions that only further enrich the elite and leave the rest of the country in worse shape.
Thus, progressives have a message for Democrats in 2018 and beyond. To paraphrase George W, there’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, corncob me once, shame on — shame on you. Corncob me — you can’t get corncobbed again.
He’s right and we won’t.