To those with more than a casual interest in politics, “Silly Season” is a common term used to indicate the time running up to an election when the logic of Capitol Hill, such as it is, gets crazier than usual. Votes are scheduled or canceled depending on how much they would help or hurt the opposition in their home districts rather than on the merits of the bills in question. Silly Season used to start in late spring or early summer before an election and ran right up to election day, though you could argue that it now starts earlier than that, roughly the first Monday following the second Tuesday of each even-yeared November.
As fun as it is to watch, I’ve always preferred a slightly different version, which I call Silly Season for Advanced Players. It starts early each January, and gets exponentially sillier as the State of the Union speech approaches. People inside the political machinery struggle to get their favorite programs and policies mentioned (and to take credit for it), but the real fun is on the outside, watching NGOs and industry associations wring their hands over whether and how prominently their issue will get mentioned. All this culminates on the night of the speech, with people anxiously counting the number of words they got and how many minutes into the speech it came (not counting pauses for applause).
The last week is exquisitely excruciating, with advocates of various issues gossiping furiously over the latest rumors about their position, as though a strong showing in the State of the Union could automatically launch a new initiative or resurrect a dead one.
This year, policies don’t get any deader than climate change. For the next two years, perhaps even longer, there is approximately zero chance that we will enact climate policy at the federal level, even if it’s the first thing the President mentions.
Of course, both the scientific imperative to cut climate pollution and the economic imperative to invest in new engines of growth are completely indifferent to the political calculations that determine what gets mentioned and what is possible.
At the same time, our ability to transition to a clean economy has to happen away from Washington and has to matter to people to whom the State of the Union speech doesn’t.
In the spirit of putting my money (or at least my job) where my mouth is, I recently left world of policy advocacy and joined a new organization focused on bringing the pieces of the clean economy together to create jobs.
For the clean economy to work, it needs to work in places like the Southeast, which, despite cheap energy, desperately needs to find new sources of economic development and job creation.
This month, at the height of Silly Season, we are launching a new initiative in the Gulf Coast aimed at bringing together local partners, including government and community leaders, but especially the business community, to guide them through the project development and seed-funding process.
In a move unlikely to get a mention in the State of the Union, or any other Presidential address, the federal government is doing its part, providing volunteers through the Corporation for National and Community Service to help us build operational capacity in the small to medium-sized communities that are so often overlooked.
Private sector partners are getting involved helping identify the most promising projects from around the country and supplying the tools and know-how to introduce these projects in the Gulf Coast.
Community organizations, like the Institute for Sustainable Communities are helping to train volunteers and bring local leaders into the effort.
Of course there’s no guarantee that this will be successful, and if it is, we may not know it until well after the next State of the Union. Who knows, by then climate change might even headline the speech. Stranger things have happened in the history of Silly Season.
But whatever happens in the ups and downs of national politics, we need to start now to create the economic future we want.
It would be silly not to.