Hillary Edges In on Global Warming Buzz


May 24, 2006 — -- Hillary Clinton chose the day before her husband's former vice president hits the theaters with a documentary aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of global warming to make her own first "major policy statement" on energy and the environment.

Al Gore, the failed Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, staked out his turf on global warming two decades ago, long before the term meant anything to any but a few environmentalists. Clinton, the former first lady and current New York senator who is projected by many as the Democrats' likely candidate for president in 2008, is coming late to the topic, but she may be ready to make it her own.

That's the image RJ Matson, political cartoonist for Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, conjures up today. In his cartoon, named "An Inconvenient Truth" after Gore's film, Clinton drives a Hummer and is just about to run down Gore, who struggles to pedal his bicycle.

"I don't wish to imply that Hillary is not an environmentalist, just that as a politician determined to position herself as a centrist, she would be more likely to pander to SUV-loving voters. She has to play catch-up on the global warming issue," Matson said.

Gore's documentary, which rolls out across the country this week, is a movie that he said is meant as a wake-up call for Americans to become more energy efficient.

But, according to some political analysts, it also seems to have been a wake-up call for Clinton to get on the global warming bandwagon.

Greg Howard, a longtime political operative who worked on Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's presidential campaigns in 1988 and 1992, said Gore's powerpoint presentation-styled documentary must have convinced Clinton that it's a buzz issue she should take a stand on.

"There's no question, on global warming Gore is much better equipped to handle the topic. Hands down. His biggest problem is that he's yesterday's news," Howard said.

But he said Clinton is another story altogether.

"She's a juggernaut," Howard said. "She's got money out the whazoo. There seems to be an attitude that said she'll be very difficult to beat if she runs."

Some say that before all this hype around "An Inconvenient Truth," Hillary didn't take such a wide stance on the topic of global warming.

"It's not been a priority of hers until very, very recently," said Ross Gelbspan, a global warming specialist and author of "The Heat Is On."

Gelbspan said he finds it interesting that Hillary's husband set the stage for her on this topic, which is exactly what Bill Clinton did this past weekend with his most recent thrust on global warming.

The former president alerted graduates of the University of Texas' Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs that global warming could be even more threatening than terrorism.

"Climate change is more remote than terror, but a more profound threat to the future of the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren I hope all of you have," the former president said.

From a strategic perspective, Gelbspan said, the Democratic party might be better off pushing Hillary Clinton forward, as it's voice of power and knowledge on the topic of global warming.

"Al knows his stuff but he's got a lot of baggage associated with it. People remember back in 1988 when [former President George H.W.] Bush called him ozone man. People remember this and think he's got an agenda. Coming from Hillary, it sounds fresher," Gelbspan said.

So is all this talk about global warming a reality? Could something really be done in a president's term? Or is this concern just political positioning to get back in the big white house?

Realistically, Gelbspan said one president could have a real impact on the environment.

"There needs to be a focus on making a global transition to clean energy," he said. "Domestically, we spend $25 [billion] to $30 billion in subsidizing oil, coal and fossil fuels. We need to put that money into renewable energy and focus in on developing countries."

It doesn't really matter how interesting Gore's powerpoint presentation is or if Hillary really cares about global warming, Gelbspan said. What matters most is that people's level of awareness on the environment is increasing.

"An Inconvenient Truth" opened today at theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and hits movie houses in the rest of the country on Friday.

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