Bill McKibben for President?

by Rob Roper

Ralph Nader is apparently trying to find someone, anyone, to challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president in 2012. Though he is reportedly casting a wide net, one of the fish he’s trying to catch is Vermont’s own environmental celebrity, Bill McKibben.

Columnist and pundit Eleanor Clift writes in her August 11 column that Nader’s hope is that, “several people would step forward and force Obama to debate on Democratic turf-the minimum wage, labor rights, shifting the tax burden to Wall Street.”

News of his draft status, however, hadn’t reached McKibben. Clift reported that he responded in an email that he didn’t know anything about it. However, according to the story, McKibben didn’t say no.

McKibben has been critical of the president of late for Obama’s seeming abandonment of environmental issues. Back in April, McKibben sat on a panel titled “What If Your President’s Just Not That Into You? where he described his frustrations with Obama:

I was among the first green leaders to join up on ‘Environmentalists for Obama,’ back when he seemed a longshot. It wasn’t because I thought he would solve every problem; it’s because I thought he’d make climate change one of the top two priorities of his presidency…. [W]hen he finally clinched the nomination he said that people would someday look back and say “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

This follows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent statement that, “it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition.” Sanders said on the Tom Hartman radio show, “My suggestion is, I think one of the reasons the president has been able to move so far to the right is that there is no primary opposition to him, and I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting what is a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama is doing,” (Although Sanders doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to give up his cushy job in the U.S. Senate to do the job himself.)

This level of disenchantment on the left is certainly a contributing factor to the fact that Obama’s job approval rating just sank below 40% for the first time in the Gallup poll (39%). In 2008, Vermont gave Obama his largest margin of victory out of any state, except the president’s home state of Hawaii. That such prominent Vermonters are now prominent in the charge for a challenge does not bode well.

So, what will McKibben likely do? Liberal writer and blogger John Odum (most know in Vermont for his work at Green Mountain Daily) chuckled when he heard about Nader’s attempt to recruit Vermont’s premier environmental activist. “I don’t think he’ll get very far with that. And that’s coming from someone who tried to get Bill McKibben to run for governor.”