Category Archives: Political Process

Give Me Land, Lots of Land

Bruce Babbitt says President Obama is not a good enough environmentalist. Last week the former Interior Secretary and one-time presidential candidate made a remarkable speech, in which he accused the Obama Administration of failing to maintain a balance between energy development and conservation. He claimed that the Administration has allowed 6 million acres of land to be leased for energy development, while permanently protecting only 2.6 million acres. His solution is to recommend a new policy that every acre leased for energy development ought to be accompanied by an acre permanently “set aside for conservation.”

Like we must be punished for our reliance on energy – an eye for an eye, an acre for an acre.

Babbitt is a grand master of spin, but this one strains credulity even for the Bruce Babbittmost gullible. He made it sound as if we are in a race to drill and destroy vast tracts of public lands for corporate profits, while we ignore the dire need to protect the last great places from….. well I guess he didn’t say what these places need protected from. He trashed House Republicans who he says are “more interested in throwing themselves off metaphorical cliffs than protecting any real ones.”

I know, right?

Has someone been drilling oil wells on the side of cliffs without our notice? Are cliffs across America falling down absent special wilderness protection? These rotten Republicans, he said, “will take up Big Oil’s cause and again call for a fire sale of public lands for corporate use.” Temper, temper.  Fairly dishonest vitriol from someone who should understand that there is no sale of public lands – even if leased for oil and gas development, the land remains public forever and is restored at the end of the process.

What is missing from Babbitt’s diatribe is context, as usual with such proposals. If he really wants an acre-for-acre balance between land set aside for permanent protection and land permitted for energy production, then we have a lot of drilling to do!

Consider the raw numbers. The government owns almost a third of the United States, nearly 650 million acres of land, a large percentage of it underlain with oil, gas, coal, and other vital resources. The government’s primary oil and gas leasing agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), leases just under 38 million acres for oil and gas production – that’s about 5.6% of the government’s land. There are oil and gas leases also on some Forest Service lands and some wildlife refuges, but most leasing is on BLM land. And that number has been shrinking for years, not growing.

In 1990 the BLM leased 63.7 million acres for oil and gas. By 1993 (when Babbitt became Interior Secretary) that number had fallen to 41.8 million acres. By the time he left office in 2001 he had reduced the number to 37.9 million acres. It was increased slightly during the Bush Administration, but has declined steadily under Obama, back to the Babbitt level.

Babbitt was in charge, so he should know the number has declined. But of course, his point isn’t just about putting a stop to oil and gas development, though that is a favorite goal. He and his allies want continued designation of wilderness – areas where virtually nothing is allowed except walking quietly. That’s why Babbitt calls for lands to be “set aside” that have already been “set aside.” There are already 250 million acres of BLM lands, 193 million acres of national forests, 84 million acres of national park lands, and 150 million acres of national wildlife refuges. Those are already “set aside” from ever being sold.

To be sure, some of those lands might be available for oil and gas leasing, so Babbitt wants wilderness designations to prevent that. And wilderness advocates are clearly winning that battle. We have “set aside for conservation” not the 2.6 million acres he cited in the speech, but over 110 million acres officially designated as wilderness, never to be touched for energy or any other use again. That’s more than triple the amount of land where energy production is allowed. And it only scratches the surface, because that only includes land Congress has specifically declared wilderness. It does not include millions of acres “managed” as wilderness without congressional designation.

For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages some 540 wildlife refuges, but also 38 wetland management districts and 36,000 fee and easement “waterfowl production areas.” A wide variety of special land designations have also been used (some pioneered by Babbitt) to prevent energy development, including Research Natural Areas, Cultural Resource Sites, Historic Sites, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Natural Landmarks, National Trails, National Marine Sanctuaries, Estuarine Sanctuaries, Biosphere Reserves, and parts of international networks like Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserves and Wetlands of International Importance. BLM and the Forest Service also use similar designations to add additional layers of “protection” beyond what Congress specifically authorized.

You can guess how much oil and gas drilling will be permitted in those areas. Similarly, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed designating another 11 million BLM acres as “wildlands” and ordering wilderness management, without any congressional action. The proposal was so unpopular he had to withdraw it a year later because most Americans understand the dilemma of a nation that depends on foreign oil while locking up its own.

You have to admit that Bruce Babbitt has always been consistent in his advocacy against public uses of public lands. But the idea that we should continue to wall off American resources badly needed in a stagnant economy is just consistently wrong.

Wind Power for Us – Bill to Our Grandchildren

When Congress passed its bill to temporarily avert the fiscal cliff, the legislation contained several unrelated measures that only congressmen could love.

Only in Washington are such crises seen as opportunities to spread gifts among friends. One example was an extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit, a subsidy that helps a handful of businesses at the expense of our grandchildren.

“Although this deal is not perfect,” said Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, “I am glad my colleagues have acknowledged what I have spoken about regularly on the Senate floor: Wind energy creates jobs and benefits every American.”

Light bulb moneyWell, not exactly every American. In truth, wind power requires massive subsidies and cannot survive in a competitive economy without them.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, this one-year extension of the PTC for wind power will cost $12.1 billion in taxpayers’ money. One can understand the importance to Udall – about 5,000 Coloradans work in the wind energy business. But one has to wonder why all the other Coloradans should pay higher utility bills, and why their grandchildren should be saddled with unconscionable national debt in order to subsidize this one industry.

Absent these subsidies – which many experts have asked Congress to eliminate – Colorado’s energy would be supplied by businesses that compete in the marketplace, have long-term viability and do not require such tax credits to produce energy.

Oil and natural gas continue to be the most flexible, transportable, and affordable fuels in the marketplace today. Those who work in the exploration and production side of the oil and gas business are paid twice the average U.S. wage and don’t have to worry from year-to-year whether Congress will fund their jobs.

Today the U.S. oil and natural gas industry suports 9.2 million American workers. It also is responsible for 7.7 percent of the U.S. economy and sends an estimated $86 million every day to the U.S. Treasury in taxes, royalties, bonus bids, and other payments. Oil and natural gas companies receive the same tax incentives as others in the manufacturing sector, but their products’ value far outweighs those incentives, many of which are designed to help mom-and-pop energy companies defray the high costs of drilling wells.

Oil and natural gas products fuel more than 95 percent of U.S. transportation; provide chemicals for myriad consumer items from medicines to running shoes; power manufacturing plants, homes and business; and are a necessary component even of wind turbines, solar panels, and other energy sources.

Oil, natural gas, coal and other fossil fuels cannot be replaced simply by the wishful thinking of politicians, nor by taxpayer-funded freebies handed out to a few friendly companies. No other energy source offers the same advantages and can be produced in large enough quantities to supplant oil and natural gas, especially with dramatic increases in American production.

And that fact worries oil and gas critics. So they pressure Congress and the White House to fund pie-in-the-sky ideas.

In the past four years, the government has spent over $90 billion on Solyndra-like projects under the guise of reducing foreign oil dependency, and justifying it with scare tactics about peak oil or modern technologies such as hydraulic fracturing.

Yet despite the weak economy, the constant barrage of criticism and the regulatory tirade of the EPA, the American oil and natural gas industry has quietly stepped up U.S. production, leading the International Energy Agency (IEA) to predict that the United States soon will become the world’s top oil producer by overtaking Saudi Arabia by 2020. Energy analysts say U.S. oil dependency could become a thing of the past.

The United States has an abundance of oil and natural gas. If our nation adopted pro-development policies, 1.4 million jobs could be created by 2030, according to a Wood Mackenzie economic analysis. It’s estimated that 85,000 new jobs could be created in Colorado alone.

But Coloradans will not fully experience the benefits of increasing oil and gas production unless elected officials get serious about energy production – especially since the federal government owns most of the state’s energy-producing land.

For 20 years, wind energy has been heavily subsidized. As 47 House members recently wrote in a letter to Speaker John Boehner, “[It] is time for the federal government to stop picking winners and losers in the energy marketplace.”

While mandating that Americans pay more in taxes this year, it made no sense for Congress to extend the costly wind PTC. We have better and more reliable energy resources right under our feet.

Climate Science and Political Science

A few days ago I attended a briefing by Dr. James Hansen, the NASA scientist whose 1988 congressional testimony touched off a generation of debate over man-made global warming. He is making the news again, touting a recent guest editorial in the Washington Post and lecturing on the think-tank circuit, generally well-received as the godfather of the scientists and activists who have sounded the warning of our impending doom.

This most recent briefing began with Dr. Hansen’s usual recital of data, though quite different from what he predicted in the early stages of alarmism. You may remember that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, projected what it called “dramatic” changes in both temperature and sea levels as a result of man-made greenhouse gases, relying in large part on the work of Dr. Hansen and other academics. An early IPCC report predicted a world-average temperature increase of up to 5 degrees, which could cause rises in sea levels of 3-5 feet (IPCC later reduced that original estimate to about 18 inches, and now to about 6 inches). Today Dr. Hansen is saying the rate of sea level rise has declined in recent years. He now says the sea levels are rising at the rate of 1.8 millimeters a year, which he says could be as much as a foot over the next 100 years.

Initially, we were advised by some extremists (including the World Wildlife Fund) that the world would have to colonize other planets by 2050, as the Earth’s capacity to support life was exhausted. A highly-publicized 2008 report from the United Nations University predicted that destruction of the environment and desertification would turn 50 million people into “environmental refugees” by 2010, which we already know did not occur. On the surface of it, the idea is patently absurd. Of course substantial melting of the polar icecaps would dramatically alter life in the arctic regions, and of course a significant rise in sea level would change the environment of cities near the coasts. But to assert that a continent like North America could not sustain life in the face of an average 5-degree temperature increase or a 1-foot rise in sea level over a century strains credulity even for the most gullible among us. After all, we have built huge cities where once there was water. We know how to drain wetlands, build levees, divert waterways, and otherwise ensure that water does not inundate valuable land. Our landscape might change, but it would not disappear.

The truth is that scientists advocating the theory of catastrophic manmade global warming have no idea what the weather will be like next year. Neither does anyone else. They hand out lots of charts, but none of them are based on anything but educated projections and computer models, which have already proven to be wrong in predictions they made a few years ago. So you might think a world-famous expert would be cautiously telling us to be careful about such assumptions. You would be wrong.

Dr. Hansen’s recent editorial in the Washington Post was entitled “Climate Change is Here – and Worse Than We Thought.” Reminding us of his dire 1988 warning of “steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels,” he now says, “I was too optimistic.” He blames every weather phenomenon of recent years on global warming, based lagrely on his now-famous concept of “climate dice.”

I don’t blame academics and scientists for wanting to better understand the weather, and to continue studying and publishing, even lecturing, briefing, and writing books. But scientific study does not come close to the agenda Dr. Hansen and other activists are now pushing.

Dr. Hansen now proposes a massive new tax on all the people who produce oil, gas and coal. He denies it is a tax, preferring to call it a fee, because the money would not stay in Washington but be “rebated” directly to every man, woman and child in America. Instead of using his brain power to help find a way to make alternative energy sources cheaper, he simply proposes making fossil fuels prohibitive – and asserts that this would create a “robust clean energy economy with millions of new jobs.” That is an assertion backed by nothing in the real world, and contradicted by years of contrary experience.

Even though Dr. Hansen and many of his allies are highly educated scientists, and they are entitled to their opinions – on science or even on politics – just remember, the fact that someone is a scientist does not make his opinion science. In this case, the briefing I heard was not climate science, but political science.

Sacrificing For My Country

Most Americans are willing to sacrifice more than you might guess to help our country through this budget and debt crisis and to protect their grandchildren’s future.  Here are a few government “services” I am willing to give up for my country: 

  • I would be willing to forgo the millions of dollars’ worth of nutrition programs the USDA provides so that public schools can offer a better selection of broccoli to my children.  It would be difficult for me, as a parent, to have to give some thought to what meals my children eat and whether they are becoming obese from too many soft drinks, but for the good of the nation, I’d be willing to parent my own children – at least until we get out of this economic mess.  
  • I could learn to live without the EPA studies of the climate dangers caused by cow flatulence and maybe even that agency’s regulation of my own breathing.  Realizing that my breath and my love of beef may lead to yet another half-inch rise in the sea level over the next century, perhaps we could worry about this in another decade or two when the economic outlook is rosier.  
  • If absolutely necessary, I could manage without the Department of Education funding thousands of school district administrators across the nation.  I know the importance of every district having coordinators for special education, autism, behavioral problems, social engineering, political correctness, and curriculum “updating,” but because of the temporary economic downturn, I would be willing to let teachers and parents decide on their own how to run schools and implement important social objectives for now. 
  • I could try to go on without the Department of Energy giving massive grants to universities in every region to write research reports on the benefits of alternative energy and the dangers of fossil fuels.  Because there is no one left who does not already understand the evil of our modern consumptive life, maybe we could get by with our own efforts to modernize our lives, based on what is available, affordable, and desirable to us.  Perhaps we could rely, for now, on companies that provide energy, rather than bureaucrats and professors who study it.  
  • I could run my farm, if necessary, without the Labor Department dictating details of the relationship between me and my workers.  Because the workers all know where there are better jobs that pay more, they are pretty good at negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions with me.  If I don’t pay enough, they tend to go away, even without the Labor Department telling me exactly what that wage level is.  Therefore, this is a “service” I could sacrifice for the good of my country.  
  • I would be willing to give up the Interior Department’s work in managing endangered species for a while.  Because the department’s most routine activity in this regard is adding new species to the endangered list and then issuing “opinions” that warn people against activity in the regions where the species live, there is little activity that actually results in recovery of anything endangered.  Wildlife seems entirely unaware of all this activity, anyway; therefore, maybe we could all just stop killing endangered species for now and try to make such judgment calls without the aid of the Interior Department’s regulatory structure.  
  • Finally, I could – if pushed – figure out how to pay for the things I buy without the benefit of the pennies and dollar bills that government continues to mint and print by the billions each year.  Recognizing that pennies cost more than 1.5 cents to produce and that dollar bills last a few months while dollar coins last for years, I know these are “services” that cost millions each year unnecessarily.  I guess I could take time to look at my change long enough to distinguish between a dollar and a quarter, if it would help the country out of this mess. 

I know there are many more examples, and I speak for millions of my countrymen in offering to live with less of such services.  After all, we Americans are public spirited, not selfish.

Change the Words, Not Your Mind

Government no longer “spends your money.”  It “invests in your future.” 

 If, despite that clear distinction, you still don’t feel good about multi-trillion-dollar deficits, it’s because you must understand one of the most important techniques in the art of debate – when you’re losing, change the terms.  Successful politicians must master that art if they want to push unpopular policies.  If “illegal alien” sounds bad, change the words to “undocumented workers.”  If “estate tax” sounds OK to people who have no “estate,” call it the “death tax” and it affects everyone who might eventually die.  A simple change in terms often changes the outcome of debates, legislative votes, and even elections.

Changing the words is a long and proud tradition in the world of conservation, too.  That’s how national forest timber management became “below-cost timber sales” and “logging old growth,” the result of which was an almost complete end to active forest management (and today’s dead and dying forests).  That’s also how vast tracts of public lands became “the last great places,” which must be protected from public use.  It is a technique both sides practice regularly, but that doesn’t make it any more honest or less cynical.

One of the great examples is being played out in today’s debate over global warming.  As average global temperatures leveled off in the past decade, “global warming” became “climate change,” since that includes both warming AND cooling.  As more recent scientific research makes the causes of climate changes less certain, an increasingly skeptical public has begun to shy away from “solutions” that seem harsh, expensive, or difficult.  Thus, Congress could not muster enough votes to pass the proposed cap-and-trade bill several years in a row, and the effort now appears dead.

Not to be deterred, however, advocates have resorted once again to the tried-and-true technique of changing the terms.  It has become unpopular in a time of spiking gas prices to propose the ban on drilling for oil and gas that many environmental activists actually want.  They recognize that an end to the use of fossil fuels to power our economy is simply not achievable in the foreseeable future.  That’s why they have tried for several years to convince the public that our use of natural resources to create prosperity is evil, and that our pursuit of the good life is destroying the planet.  But we all learned about carbon dioxide in school science classes, and we certainly do not intend to stop exhaling.  That is why it is now known as a “greenhouse gas” – because “emitting” any “gas” sounds like something we should stop doing.   It is a debate such advocates are losing in the court of public opinion, for several reasons:

  •  There is a limit to how much Americans can pay for gas, heat, and electricity;
  • Many people are no longer convinced of a direct link between their use of energy and any catastrophic change in the Earth’s climate;
  • Revelations about fraudulent manipulation of scientific data has damaged the credibility of man-made global warming alarmists;
  • The economic recession has “cooled” Americans’ willingness to raise taxes, hinder businesses, and slow job creation – for any reason.

Does this mean advocates of a cap-and-trade policy will give up the effort?  Of course not.  It means they will change the terms, and that effort is well underway now.  Witness the new desire on the part of state and federal administrations across the country to adopt policies that promote “clean energy.”  What exactly is “clean energy?”  At the risk of stating the obvious, it means energy that comes from sources other than oil, gas, coal, methane, biomass, biofuels, nuclear, shale, tar sands, hydropower, or any source that requires pipelines, power lines, or other infrastructure (can we use wind and solar power without power lines?).  In a nutshell, it means we should stop using so much energy.  It means the same thing all the previous debates meant, just with different words.

Expect to hear the term “clean energy” repeated across the political landscape non-stop for the next several years.  Experts know that repetition is the key to successfully changing the terms of a debate.  As Berkeley Professor George Lakoff advises liberals, “Repetition of such articulations is the key to redefining these words…” 

The Republican “Word Doctor” Frank Luntz explains the importance of repetition: “There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.”

That is why the debate of the next few years will be about “clean energy.”  It is a legitimate debate, so long as everyone knows exactly what it is really about.  Just remember, the story you are about to see is true; only the names have been changed to protect the political agenda.

A Bored Walk Down Perk Place

Members of the Washington, D.C. City Council and several activist groups continue their tired push for statehood, claiming the city’s residents are entitled to two U.S. Senators, and pretending the founders had no reason to put the Capitol in a district that was not part of any state.

This week the Council debated new welcome signs for roads entering the District from Maryland.  In addition to the traditional “Welcome to Washington, D.C.,” some members propose replacing “The Nation’s Capitol” with cutesy slogans like “Unrepresented in Congress for over 200 years” or “Enjoy your stay and join our fight for statehood.”  Last year D.C. began issuing license plates emblazoned with the motto “Taxation Without Representation” – as if Congress has never paid any attention whatsoever to the needs of Washington, D.C.

The latest publicity scheme calls for renaming a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue –  the Nation’s Main Street – to call attention to the statehood demand.  A website set up by council members to solicit public suggestions produced such uninspired gems as “Statehood for DC Avenue” and “DC Demands Full Democracy Avenue.”

 All of this noise about Congressional representation for D.C. ignores several important facts and principles.

First, Washington, D.C. is a city, not a state.  It has neighborhoods, not counties.  Its politics are monolithic and its people share the same interests – including an interest in subsidizing everything they do with tax money from the rest of the country.

Second, Washington enjoys greater representation in Congress and all federal agencies than any other part of the United States.  The D.C. metro area has about 5.4 million residents, including 4 U.S. Senators and 5 Congressmen who live in its suburbs – and the other 530 Members of Congress and over 3,000 presidential appointees who spend most of the year there.  Any idea that the needs of Washington, D.C. have no voice in government would be laughable, if it were funny.

Third, Washington, D.C. is actually closer to “representation without taxation” than the other way around.  Consider that Congress subsidizes D.C. government to the tune of ¾ of a billion dollars every year – in addition to the taxes paid by residents – and the D.C. delegate in Congress sits on the Appropriations Committee to see that the money gets earmarked to all her favorite projects.  Last year America’s taxpayers spent $768 million on D.C. projects such as a $35 million Tuition Assistance Grant program, new charter schools ($62 million), homeless shelters ($19 million); a local sewer project ($20 million), $100,000 each for the Whitman Walker Clinic and the Youth Power Center, and $50,000 to fund upgrades at a Washington hospital.  These annual subsidies, of course, tell only a fraction of the real story, especially considering the tens of billions spent to build the city itself – and it is not built with cheap materials.  What other city can afford to eschew concrete, building its sidewalks of brick and its curbs of granite?  Where else are daily commuter roads maintained by the National Park Service, or traffic enforcement provided by U.S. Capitol Police?  Washington is a beautiful city with parks, open spaces, fountains, plazas, circles, and magnificent architectural masterpieces – all built by the entire nation’s taxpayers.

Fourth, the founders understood exactly why the seat of government could not be part of any State, as it would provide an automatic advantage to residents of that State.  In the sectional disputes that characterize a giant country – disputes that are as common today as in 1790 when Washington was founded – the balance of power is delicate and it is important.  Diluting the representation of all the other states to give a single city even greater hold – over a country it already dominates – would be a colossal mistake.

Finally, residents of the District have a much simpler choice.  If the issue is really about a vote in Congress as they claim, the easy fix is to give the non-federal part of the city back to Maryland (from which it was originally carved out).  That would almost certainly gain one additional congressional district for Maryland.  The Virginia portion of the original 10 square-mile tract was given back to that state more than 100 years ago, and that solution would still work today.  But if you suspect another agenda is at work, you’re right.  What is really at stake is nothing more than a partisan attempt to stack more Democratic votes in the U.S. Senate, which would be the result of statehood (for D.C. and also for Puerto Rico, another perennial proposal).  Like FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court 75 years ago, it is an attempt to thwart the will of the people and the spirit of the Constitution.

The United States already include several historical quirks.  For instance, Rhode Island is essentially a county, separated from Massachusetts Bay Colony because of religious differences between Roger Williams and the Puritans.  And West Virginia was separated from Virginia in complete violation of the U.S. Constitution during the Civil War because of strong Union sentiments there.  But no such national catastrophe plagues modern-day residents of the nation’s capitol.

In fact, D.C. residents have no desire to give up the many perks of living in Washington, from the right to in-state tuition at colleges in every state to the heavily subsidized subway system.  If they seek a more appropriate name for Pennsylvania Avenue, they ought to consider calling it Perk Place.  Then residents can pass GO, collect $200, and ponder the benefits of living in a world-class city built by the hard work and tax money of the entire rest of the country.

Lies, Damned Lies and Campaign Ads

There is nothing new about nasty campaign ads, but people across America express increasing disgust with negative tactics that often leave voters with no good choices.  Tired of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” voters would rather feel proud to support public officials they like.  Sadly, after year-long campaigns that saturate radio and TV with negative messages about candidates, many voters tell pollsters they simply hold their nose and cast a vote they are not proud of, because the alternative was worse.

I am a product of the political system that uses negative ads “because they work.”  My 2004 campaign for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd District was the top targeted House race in America that year, with over $8 million spent by candidates, parties, and especially outside interest groups – nearly all of it on negative messages.  My campaign was both victim and perpetrator of the nasty, negative, and misleading ads that form most modern campaigns.  More than one voter threatened me, “If I hear one more of those stupid commercials, I’m voting for no one!”  Every candidate hears similar frustrations.

Voters who make that threat rarely mean it.  Although they know many of these ads are over-the-top, the negative images clearly have an effect, as any pollster will attest.  Candidates not only monitor their popularity ratings, but also their “negatives” – the number of people who will not vote for them because of some negative perception, often created by ads financed by their opponent, or by outside interest groups.  Yet these frustrated voters may be onto something more substantive than they realize – an actual solution to the problem.

Thousands of private organizations print ballots for officers that include “none of the above,” but very few governments do so (among States, only Nevada).  Robert’s Rules of Order require that these votes be counted to determine the total number of votes cast, to ensure the winner received a majority of the eligible votes.  But if “none of the above” wins, there is no generally accepted procedure.  In Nevada, the next closest vote-getter is declared the winner.  But what if such a result actually required a new election?

Think about this: if both political parties knew their candidates might be so damaged by nasty ads that neither could win, they might be more hesitant to sink to such depths.  A sort-of “mutual assured destruction” system might emerge, in which neither side wanted to be first to “go negative” with their campaign messages, knowing the other side would respond in-kind and thus dangerously lower public opinion of both candidates.  Both parties seek to nominate their best, and would be loath to see them destroyed, lest they have no better choice on deck.

“None of the above” could be more than just a wasted symbolic vote.  Since our government derives its power “from the consent of the governed,” it would be an actual refusal by voters to be governed by either candidate.  Numerous other writers – from the Wall Street Journal to Ralph Nader – have advocated a “none of the above” choice, but it has generally been amusingly viewed as a solution without a problem.  But for those who think negative advertising has diminished our democratic process, perhaps there really is a serious reason to consider that option.