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Self-interest trumps virtue every time

Last weekend, two rather interesting stories appeared on Page 1 of an edition of The New York Times.

In the right-hand column was a story recounting how President Barack Obama’s campaign team is transferring his campaign machinery to Hillary Clinton. “On Thursday, Priorities USA Action, a ‘super PAC’ that played an important role in helping re­-elect President Obama, announced that it was formally aligning itself with Mrs. Clinton and would begin raising money to fend off potential opponents for 2016,” the Times reported.

On the other side of the page, starting in column two, there was an account of how various industries are somewhat tardily getting involved in pushing for public policies to reduce carbon emissions and thus help deal with climate change. “Today, after a decade of increasing damage to Coke’s balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force,” the Times reported of Coca-Cola, whose vice president was described as saying that the effects of climate change are “also disrupting the company’s supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, as well as citrus for its fruit juices.”

Now, let’s take the Obama leaders first. Nothing has changed since Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced off in 2008. She’s still the candidate who, as a U.S. senator, blathered constantly about the plight of the middle class while cultivating corporate money and ignoring the working poor. So what, in the intervening six years, has changed for Obama’s organizers and fundraisers?

Well, there is this: In two years Obama’s people will lose their power unless they find another horse to ride. They could do what they did last time — choose an unlikely but promising candidate and manage her or him to victory over Clinton. Instead, they are using exactly the strategy Clinton tried to use against Obama — a huge war chest to try to buy the race before others can get traction.

Because their own influence is fading, they’ve changed their minds about Clinton. Their personal interests are engaged.

As to U.S. industry, corporations such as Nike and Coca­-Cola that are now becoming involved in climate change were indifferent to the issue until now. Nothing has changed since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its first report in 1992 that found a growing scientific consensus that human activities emissions were sharply increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to warming of Earth’s surface, or since its second report (1995) that reported much the same conclusions, or since any of the subsequent reports (2001, 2007, 2013-­14), which have found increasing agreement among tens of thousands of scientists across the planet. Climate change? Ho-­hum. We have tennies to make.

So what has changed? The corporations themselves are being hurt. “In 2008, floods temporarily shut down four Nike factories in Thailand, and the company remains concerned about rising droughts in regions that produce cotton, which the company uses in its athletic clothes,” the Times reported.

There — see? And all it took was a conk on the head of corporate executives with a ball-peen hammer. A worldwide calamity is one thing, a corporate calamity very much another. Their personal interests are engaged.

Recently I’ve been researching Nevada’s first legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, which was approved by the Nevada Legislature in 1979 and repealed in 1987. How did it pass in the first place? In part, it had to do with lobbying by conservative Democrat Keith Hayes, a state court judge, and conservative Republican James Slattery, a former state senator.

During their entire public careers, the two men had what H.L. Mencken described as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” Neither supported use of marijuana for anything. But then Hayes was stricken with cancer and Slattery’s wife with glaucoma, and they went lobbying for marijuana.

Liberals always like to debate issues on the merits, never understanding what conservatives know by instinct: Self-interest is always a more powerful motivator than appeals to good sense or virtue.

Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.