Robert Redford: Bush Energy Policy 'A Disaster' And 'An Insult'

On Monday, movie star/director Robert Redford appeared on "Hardball" to discuss environmentalism. Hardballs weren't really expected. (Remember Chris Matthews fawning over Jane Fonda?) MRC's Geoff Dickens found that Redford sounded predictable notes about how Bush and Cheney were "living in the '50s" with their energy policies, driven by their oil riches and narrow minds. Al Gore's film showed that green groups had idealism comparable to JFK and Martin Luther King. So why can't the Democrats win? They're too "open to all points of view."

Matthews began, predictably, by praising Redford's activism and this great new moment to be green:

"You know, it seems like you’ve always been involved in the environmental movement, going back decades, decades. And yet now it seems to have come together like a perfect storm. We got high gas prices, the war in Iraq and this emerging reality about global warming. What’s it tell you?"

Robert Redford: "It tells me it is a perfect storm and it’s coming at a perfect time, just sad that it’s so late. I mean I got involved in alternative energy in the, in the ‘70s when I went to a conference in Vail, Colorado as a guest. And they presented this chart about how much of our energy comes from non-renewable sources and what the alternatives were that were renewable and I looked at that and said, ‘Oh God, this a no brainer.’ I said, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we dependent on something that’s eventually going to run out?’ It didn’t make any sense to me, so I got involved at that time to do whatever I could to promote alternative energy sources, kind of focusing on solar."

Do you feel stuck in the 1970s yet? But Redford thinks it's the other side with the living fossils stuck in the past. When Matthews asked how we're going to deal with oil states like Iran in the future, he said:  

Redford: "I think the first thing you do is, I think you’ve got to get new leadership that has a new vision, which means you’ve got to get these guys out. I mean, I think the problem with this administration and guys like Cheney, is that they are living in the ‘50s. That’s the problem. They, they can’t get out of thinking the world is turning the way it was in the ‘50s. It’s, it’s, we live in a new time and a new world and they don’t see it because their interests are so narrow."

Matthews: "He’s an oil patch guy is what you’re saying."

Redford: "There’s an arrogance about it."

Matthews: "But they’re oil patch people, is that what you’re saying?"

Redford: "Yeah. I mean, they’ve earned their fortunes in gas and oil, what do you expect?"

Of course, Redford saw these Republicans came from narrow-minded privilege, unlike pampered pretty-boy movie stars:

Matthews: "Well let me ask you about the President, because he is the President, he’s from an oil state. Do you think that we have two people that have a problem because of just their local interests and their personal backgrounds?"

Redford: "I think, I think a, I think a lack of breadth, not, not a broad enough mind, narrow-mindedness tied to the privilege they came up with and so forth.

Redford saw the battle as the corporate greedheads versus the virtuous, progressive grass roots of America, touting a new Apollo Alliance against global warming:  

That’s the first time in history that all these groups, which represent the grassroots against the failed leadership that should have, I mean, this issue has been under their nose, this current administration, since the day they rode in. And we have an economy that’s fueled, excuse the pun, it’s fueled by oil, and it’s absolutely imperative that we get off of the oil habit. I mean, it’s, it’s bad for our security, it’s bad for the environment, there’s no real future in it because it’s going to run out. What you can point to now is that this is a time for optimism because there are solutions. And they’re real, and they’re here and they’re available now, despite what the administration does to undercut it or submarine it, it just can’t be. There’s too much evidence."

Matthews: "What do you think happened in that private meeting that Vice President Cheney ran called the energy task force? We’re not allowed to know who was in the room. Do you know where our energy policy that we have, whatever it is, has come from?"

Redford: "Well what do you think happened? I mean it`s pretty obvious what happened. It was designed by the energy companies in private for self-interested reasons. And so there you have, there you have the perfect equation of the big energy companies, oil and gas companies, influencing our political policies. And it was done, the fact it was done in secret, what that tells me is that was probably the beginning of a long chain of secret, secret events the administration sort of tried to pull. Now, fortunately, it’s coming, it’s coming out in the wash now, that that’s what was going on. But you had Enron in the room, one of our stellar, one of our stellar groups."

When the conversation turned to "An Inconvenient Truth," the Al Gore slide-show documentary, Redford turned optimistic about how green groups had all the idealism on their side:

Matthews: "Let me ask you, what about Al Gore, did you see the movie?"

Redford: "Yeah."

Matthews: "What did you make of it? An Inconvenient Truth."

Redford: "It’s good, we had it at the festival. It’s good. Yeah, I was, he shot..."

Matthews: "You had it out at Sundance?"

Redford: "Yeah, yeah. No it’s very valuable, it’s very valuable, and I think that the main thing is, it’s one thing to show how bad it is, ‘cause it is. It’s dire, but you’ve got to show what is available as an alternative. Because you got to have some optimism. My God, we’ve been depressed for so long, it’s about time to have some hope and there’s a reason for hope because there are alternatives that are available right now so you’ve got to get that word out and I think Al’s film goes a long way in that direction. It’s great."

Matthews: "But the movie was fairly depressing?"

Redford: "Well because it’s dealing with hard facts but then, then if you look at the other side, you say ‘Okay, this is bad and it’s been bad for 20, 30 years, because it’s been denied by special interests for so long.’ Now here’s the good side, here’s the bright spot and this is the part that America is supposed to be great at, you know, the can-do country. Look, you’ve got Kennedy saying you can put a guy on the moon. They did. And when people dream big, I mean, it’s not like that’s, that’s a silly thing. When you dream big, you can get there, as Kennedy did, as Martin Luther King did. I mean so now I think that time has come for energy. I’m, I’m pretty optimistic about it."

Matthews thought it was a great opportunity for Democrats, but that they were blowing it, that people like John McCain and Hillary Clinton were not stepping up to battle Big Oil.

Matthews: "I’m just wondering because we’ve got three plus dollars a gas now, people out there, working guys, who have to drive 50 to miles to work both ways, they’re paying a lot for gas in sometimes old cars. You’ve got a war over there that you can argue isn’t about oil but damn well it is..."

Redford: "Sure it is."

Matthews: "...to a large extent because we’re trying to protect the oil lines. The President admits that. You’ve got this global warming fear that even the President and the conservatives are accepting now as a reality with Kilimanjaro melting down, and the ice cap, everything melting down. So you have this, it seems to me everything is working toward a political opportunity for one of the two political parties and it’s you independent guys that are out doing it. There’s no politician out at the front of this thing that’s in the business anymore."

Redford: "Well I think the Democratic party puts forth a bill that’s, that’s a great start. I mean there’s more to go. It can be bolder..."

Matthews: "Yeah."

Redford: "...and there’s, there’s more to come. But it’s a start in comparison to what energy policy we have coming from this administration now which is a disaster, it’s also an insult."

So why can't the Democrats win and return us to glorious Carter-era energy policy?

Redford: "Maybe it has to do with the nature of the Democratic, the identity of the Democrat is to be, is to be open to all points of view and, and that’s why it’s hard to coalesce.

Matthews: "...Will Rogers is still calling the shots when he said, ‘I belong to no organized political party, the Democrats.’ I mean you look at how clever they use the, the gay marriage issue in Ohio and states like that last time and how they’re doing it again, they’re moving the country to a 55-45 position their way on some issues like that."

Redford: "Yeah. That’s the old straw dog approach where they’re in trouble and to distract people from the trouble they’re in they create a straw dog. You they did it with swift boat. They, I mean, I still think it’s probably one of the great shameful acts to go after Cleland the way they did, a war hero and to try to take this guy apart and accuse him of being unpatriotic. I thought that was one of the most criminally offensive moves I could imagine, but they’ll do it, they’ll do it because it’s about winning."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis