President Biden’s diktat canceling the Keystone XL pipeline is thought to signify his total slavishness to the climate campaigners, for whom pipelines have become like garlic and holy water to a vampire. This is correct, but the larger significance of it is much more ominous. If anything, the critics of the decision are under-reacting.
We are continuously told by our betters that high voter turnout is to be celebrated because it is a measure of the civic engagement of our citizens. I hold the opposite view: high turnout is an indicator of serious civic breakdown. High turnout in other struggling democracies is usually a sign of things going very wrong (like the German elections of the late 1920s and early 1930s, or Argentina back in the Peron era). The point is: you get high turnouts when people believe everything is at stake in the results of the election. Middling voter turnout in American elections is a sign of the relative health of our political order, because it means that much of the population doesn’t think everything important is up for grabs in the result. Elections are supposed to determine who rules, and we take turns in ruling and being ruled. Our presidents are supposed to run the government, not every aspect of our lives.
I’ve long thought it overwrought to hear people on both sides of the spectrum say, as has become typical over the last couple decades, that the current presidential election is “the most important election of our lifetime.” If every election is now a life-or-death matter for the republic, then the republic is already lost.
For thousands of workers on the Keystone pipeline, the election result did entail the life or death of their jobs, at the capricious stroke of a pen. The cavalier answer of Biden’s people (like Transportation Secretary designate Pete Buttigieg who said that the Keystone pipeline workers can “find other jobs”) shows how little regard Democrats now have for actual workers. Can pipeline skills be simply transferred to other kinds of construction, just like that?
It is one thing if a government makes macroeconomic mistakes that bring on a recession that costs jobs, imposes a health care plan that wrecks your health insurance, or cancels a government funded project (like the border wall construction that Biden has suspended), but the Keystone pipeline was entirely a private sector project that had obtained its legal permits. I’ll skip over for now whether Keystone may have legal remedies to be brought against Biden’s decision. The point is: I can’t think of another example of a president crushing thousands of private sector jobs at a stroke in the absence of a genuine legal reason. Biden offered no legal reason, such as defects of the permit or violations of the permit conditions. He just doesn’t like it. Maybe readers can help me out with examples, but I suggest we have just passed an awful milestone, in which we’ve moved one step closer to elections where everything is at stake.
Somehow Michael Oakeshott’s warning comes to mind just now: The conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.
Prediction: Fracking, even on private land, is next.
And a reminder—even the Washington Post gets this:
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