|Sixty is Not Enough on Climate Change|
|Written by Aaron Zucker|
|Thursday, October 21, 2010 06:05 PM|
As the first half of President Obama’s term draws to a close, the success or failure of his legislative agenda has appeared to hinge on the fickle positions of individual U.S. senators, who may choose to support or filibuster every individual motion proposed by the Democrats. Real change may now only be realized when sixty courageous senators step up and fight for what is right by forming a super majority that can prevent a filibuster. That was certainly the mentality that drove the year-long negotiations for health care reform: one by one, conservative Democrats like Evan Bayh and liberal Republicans like Susan Collins were courted to join the good guys.
When Congress transitioned to tackling climate change, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza revealed that this sixty-centric strategy was again very much a driving force. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham had become convinced that capping carbon emissions was an imperative that had to be addressed by this Senate, but he also knew that he and his colleagues had to negotiate the details as quickly as he could because the media would soon find out what he and some of his fellow Republicans were up to, which he feared would “become just a disaster for me on the airwaves.” He should have realized that this strategy was doomed to fail from the beginning. The ultimate vote on major legislation is irrelevant if the public has already become convinced that they hate it.
On health care, Democrats hoped that if they could only pass the damn thing, they would be able to sell it later to the public, and all of the bill’s benefits would win over its skeptics. Unfortunately, at that point it was far too late, and they had already lost the battle in the shouting matches of last summer’s town halls. Had they better understood their priorities, the outcome could have been entirely different. New York Times blogger Nate Silver’s polling analyses have revealed that many Americans surveyed who claim to oppose the bill still do not fully understand it. Every individual component of the bill is popular, in some cases extremely so, but many respondents still do not know exactly what is in the bill. Like cap and trade, it polls much better when its details are explained beforehand. In the meantime, Republicans are positioning to regain a legislative majority owed entirely to their victory of misinformation and confusion.
Running just below the radar of most political discourse is the absolute failure of the Republican Party to address climate change. The cable news media has salivated over the emergence of Tea Party fringe candidates such as Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell, but it has neglected the out-of-touch and outdated insanity of the mainstream GOP. Of the thirty-seven Republican candidates for U.S. Senate this season, not a single one has a plan to combat climate change and transition our economy away from carbon-based fuels. Nearly all of them are in denial, or claim to doubt the science behind man-induced climate change. Using flimsy or non-existent evidence, they have abandoned a reasonable and vital problem and have resorted to fear mongering amid a recession.
Ron Brownstein of The National Journal observes that “the GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science.... It is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.” And yet in today’s political atmosphere, many of these candidates are likely to win. It is also very likely, much more likely than these future senators and committee chairs realize, that they will mock or ignore this issue exactly when it is most dangerous to do so, as our planet reaches its point of no return. At the very least, these men and women are undeniably on the wrong side of history. Their grandchildren will read about them in their school textbooks as many Americans today read about their own grandparents: they will appear as stubborn and deluded then as the aging former segregationists of the present.
In their zeal to castigate the Democratic majority, Republican strategy has embraced intellectual dishonesty over a healthy war of ideas. Of course, this does not have to be the case. Generally, Republicans, who claim to be practical and debt-conscious, respect and revere the Congressional Budget Office—except when they don’t. Except when the CBO decides that the Democratic health care reform bill would lower costs and the national deficit. And except when it decides that the Democratic cap and trade system would limit carbon emissions without significantly raising utility bills or destroying the economy.
Instead, Republican Congressmen ignored these budget analyses, and turned to the few studies that reflected their worldview. Any high school student writing a research paper could tell them that they cannot singularly cite the conservative Heritage Foundation for data, just as Democrats cannot rely solely on The Center for American Progress for theirs. It is impossible to argue credibly using only biased, partisan sources, but too many politicians choose the easy way out.
The misinformation that has thrived under lazy or deceptive politicians must be combated vigorously in the media, but today too many cable hosts permit their guests to utter untruths on television and pass them off as opinion. Instead, rumor-debunking outlets like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.org, and the Annenberg Center’s Factcheck.org need to be emphasized. Like the CBO, these groups are cited selectively by politicians, but their impact has limitless potential.
We live in a world where accusations are highlighted in headlines, and retractions are squeezed in between ads. As a people, we need to seek out truth over drama, or we will continue to be manipulated and misled by those whose power thrives on such distractions. Therefore, in the pursuit of any legislative goal, the war of ideas cannot be taken for granted, and certainly cannot be relegated to any phase two. This current election proves that even when a major bill passes, if it is unpopular enough, its champions will soon be replaced by its opponents, who will waste their elected terms weakening and repealing it. Meanwhile, in the background, America’s true challenges are looming and growing larger.