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Do Motives Matter?

Do motives matter when a preferred outcome is reached?

For example…

  • When insurance companies privately supported Civil Rights legislation because they were afraid of the buildings they insured going up in flames in riots and the resulting insurance claims, did it matter that they weren’t supporting equal rights on moral grounds?
  • When Ron Paul calls for the end of War on Drugs and US adventures overseas, does it matter that his motives for doing so don’t match progressive reasons?
  • Does it matter that a large number of people wanted to end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars primarily because they cost too much economically, our deficit is ballooning and not because of the human toll of life?
  • When certain people calling for education reform do so because they want to crush the teachers (and other public) unions, does it matter if it results in children getting better schools?
  • And when Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, did it matter that he did so, not necessarily because he thought the pipeline was an environmental disaster, but because Republicans forced his hand via procedural process?

The thought crossed my mind because yesterday, President Obama and the State Department rejected the Keystone XL pipeline.  And progressives and environmentalists legitimately had a rare opportunity to rejoice.  It’s not everyday that ordinary people go out, put their feet on the ground, protest for months, and see their efforts pay off.  As Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and one of the major figures in the fight over the pipeline said in a letter addressed to his supporters, this is “one of the first times in the two decade fight over climate change when the fossil fuel lobby has actually lost.”

He also goes on to say:

“I think this is the high water mark of the president’s relationship with the environmental community.  The knock on the guy was that he was too conciliatory, and in this case, he stood down a bold political threat.”

Underneath this lovefest though is the reality that a major reason why Keystone XL was rejected was because Republicans demanded that a decision be made now and the State Department had previously declared that  it did not have the time to do a proper review in the timeframe that was demanded by Republicans. Republicans wanted Obama to reject Keystone XL to hammer him on his supposed indifference to creating jobs via the pipeline.

“We made a decision on November 10th that we needed additional information regarding this project, specifically about alternative routes through Nebraska,” said Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones during a phone briefing with reporters Wednesday. “And we base this decision now on the fact that we don’t have time to get that information, information we think is essential for making a well-informed decision.”

So, in many ironic ways, Republicans helped the progressive and environmentalist cause.

Hence my question: Do Motives Matter?

While I think the answer is a firm “Yes!” I also acknowledge that in many ways this is the only way to build coalitions and movements and getting things, like the rejection of Keystone XL, done.  The danger is, of course, whether this type of coalition building leads to straying from one’s ideals in the attempt to appeal to people that don’t share the same motives.  Furthermore, the major risk is that the short term win is followed by a long term loss.  That is to say, that, without a similar (moral) motive, when a similar situation presents itself, is it possible to depend on the same cohort of support when issssssssh hits the fan again.   And issssssssh always hits the fan again.

To his credit, McKibbin and the environmental lobby know this.  They know that while they did the majority of the hard work against long odds and were instrumental in successful derailing the Keystone XL, the final(?) nail in the coffin was due to Republican gamesmanship.  And they know that the fight continues.  As McKibben writes (his emphasis):

We’ve won no permanent victory (environmentalists never do) but we have shown that spirited people can bring science back to the fore. Blocking one pipeline was never going to stop global warming—but it is a real start…

A start that hopefully provides momentum to gain more support from those that are sympathetic to the cause.  If that happens, maybe it doesn’t matter what the original motives were in the first place?

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