What makes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse angry?
Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker:
Sheldon Whitehouse is a politician with a great name, a bad haircut, and a pissed-off attitude. The second-term Democratic junior senator from Rhode Island has built his career around two seemingly unrelated issues—climate change and money in politics—and he’s just written a book to demonstrate how intimately connected they turn out to be.
Whitehouse, who is sixty-one years old, has an aristocratic bearing and a background that belies his everyday fury. He’s descended from the Crocker railroad fortune, his father was a career diplomat (which included stints as ambassador to Laos and Thailand), and Sheldon himself is the product of St. Paul’s and Yale. Good breeding, however, has not assured him good manners, at least politically.
At one level, climate change is almost a parochial issue in what’s known as the Ocean State; the Atlantic is getting bigger all the time, and, consequently, Rhode Island, which is not too big to start with, is shrinking. “It’s unbelievably important to Rhode Island,” Whitehouse told me in a conversation the other day. “Right now our coastal-resources agency is predicting nine to twelve feet of sea-level rise in this century. A little girl born in Providence today is going to live long enough to see that happen. And that’s before the storm surges that are sure to come as well.” (As it happens, Whitehouse’s wife, Sandra Whitehouse, is a marine biologist, who has reinforced his grasp of the science of global warming.)
Whitehouse arrived in the Senate in 2007, at a time when the recognition of global warming, as well as the fight against it, often had bipartisan support. “When I was sworn in, we had Republican-sponsored climate-change bills all over the place,” he told me, “You had John McCain running for President in 2008 on a strong climate platform. You could see American democracy actually starting to work at solving a difficult problem.”
But the momentum on the issue stopped suddenly in 2010, he said, with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. As Whitehouse sees it, the Supreme Court ruling in that and other related cases freed corporate interests, especially oil-and-gas companies, to browbeat Republican legislators into withdrawing support for any climate-change legislation. “The fossil-fuel industry acted like a sprinter off at a gunshot,” he said. “They told the Republicans, ‘Game over, no more crossing us or we will fuck you up.’ “ Whitehouse saw the 2010 defeat, in a Republican primary, of Bob Inglis, a congressman from South Carolina who had embraced climate science, as a critical event. “Americans for Prosperity”—the political organization tied to the Koch brothers—“said publicly that anybody who crossed them on climate change would be severely disadvantaged,” Whitehouse said. “They took credit for the political peril that they had created in stopping any Republican from going the green-energy route.”
Whitehouse’s book (written with Melanie Wachtell Stinnett) is called “Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy,” and it spells out, in considerable detail, the extent of corporate influence over a variety of issues, mostly wielded through campaign contributions. In the book, Whitehouse explains his support for tighter laws mandating disclosure of political contributions by corporations and others—which is one area that the Supreme Court, at least for now, still allows Congress to regulate. “A lot of the Citizens United problem could be solved if we knew where the money came from for all these ads,” he said. “The companies create these entities with fake names—like ‘Citizens for Nice Puppies’—which means that the sources of the money are unaccountable.”
Still, the over-all message of the book is plainspoken and bleak—describing a bad situation that is getting worse, especially since the election of Donald Trump and his installation of climate-change deniers across the government. . .