The 3 key energy and climate questions — and why conservatives just don’t get why they lost, Part 1

Obama ran on clear and detailed energy and climate plans — see Obama’s excellent climate (and energy) plan and Breaking news — A real energy plan for America: Efficiency now, 10% renewables by 2012, and one million plug-in hybrids by 2015.

The election poses three over-arching questions :

  1. ON SOLUTIONS: Does Obama have a clear mandate to enact his plans to transform our energy and climate policy?
  2. ON SCIENCE: Will the transformation he is actually able to enact be sufficient to avert the worst climate impacts (and, relatedly, the worst peak oil impacts).
  3. ON POLITICS: Will this transformation be bipartisan?

The answers are, I think, “yes,” “probably not,” and “almost certainly not.”

The answers are related, of course. If conservatives accepted the overwhelming evidence of the dire nature of the climate problem, then the policy measures that progressives could enact would be far stronger. And I’m including Democratic conservatives in that assertion (see “Moderate Senate Dems build ‘Gang of 16″² to influence cap-and-trade bill“).

On the first question, the NYT‘s lead editorial today explains a core reason Obama swept to victory:

His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world….

Climate change is a global threat, and after years of denial and inaction, this country must take the lead on addressing it. The nation must develop new, cleaner energy technologies, to reduce greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil.

Traditional Republican conservatives, simply don’t get the nature of the problem or even the message of the election — and as a result they are likely to

  1. Continue their obstructionists efforts that threaten the health and well-being of all humanity.
  2. Be in the political wilderness for a long time.

If that wasn’t clear from the increasingly desperate embrace of coal and oil by the GOP, including one-time-climate-advocate John McCain (see “Revealing comments on coal from Obama — and even more revealing comments from McCain” and “Drill baby, drill”: The moment the Republic died), then it should be clear from the Op-Ed in today’s Post by conservative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), “A way out of the wilderness“:

In January, Democrats will enjoy lopsided congressional ratios not seen since the 1970s. Let’s face it: We Republicans are now, by any reasonable measurement, deep in the political wilderness….

I suggest that we return to first principles. At the top of that list has to be a recommitment to limited government. After eight years of profligate spending and soaring deficits, voters can be forgiven for not knowing that limited government has long been the first article of faith for Republicans….

Second, we need to recommit to our belief in economic freedom. Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” may be on the discount rack this year, but the free market is still the most efficient means to allocate capital and human resources in an economy, and Americans know it. Now that we’ve inserted government deeply into the private sector by bailing out banks and businesses, the temptation will be for government to overstay its welcome and force the distribution of resources to serve political ends. Substituting political for economic incentives is not the recipe for economic recovery.

Most House Republicans opposed the recent bailout and will be in a strong position to promote economic freedom over central planning as the Obama administration stumbles from industry to industry trying to determine which is small enough to be allowed to fail and which is not. Since timetables will be in vogue, perhaps Republicans could even insist on a timetable for getting the government out of the private sector…..

But there is reason for Republicans to feel optimism. Politically, America remains a center-right country, and America loves a chastened and repentant sinner. As surely as the sun rises in the east, the Democrats will overreach.

As long as we Republicans are willing to admit our folly, get back to first principles and work like there’s no tomorrow, we’ve got ’em just where we want ’em.

Sad. One could easily argue that this election — and the campaign McCain ran and decisively lost — utterly undercuts every single point Flake makes.

What could be clearer than that conservatives haven’t figured out the public wants strong government engagement on key issues related to economy, health, energy, and the environment?

I had previously explained why I don’t think a climate bill is likely to get many Republican votes, see Q: Does a cap & trade bill have to be bipartisan? Flake’s op-ed only serves to underscore my conclusion.

This, of course, will pose an enormous challenge for Obama, since he campaigned strongly on two mutually exclusive issues: enacting a serious energy/climate policy and achieving bipartisan solutions. Ironically, enough, though, it may be John McCain who allows at least Obama’s climate bill to have the aura of bipartisanship, as I’ll discuss in Part 2.

6 Responses to The 3 key energy and climate questions — and why conservatives just don’t get why they lost, Part 1

  1. Dill Weed says:

    Uh, didn’t we just get bitch slapped by the hand of Adam Smith?

    Dill Weed

  2. Adrian says:

    “After eight years of profligate spending and soaring deficits, voters can be forgiven for not knowing that limited government has long been the first article of faith for Republicans….”

    I’d have a lot more respect for this position if he had been saying it 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 years ago. When you see surpluses turn to deficits and you keep your mouth shut you lose the privilege of pretending that these values are important.

    I think Obama & the Dems are going to have a hard work achieving their energy goals while at the same time being more fiscally conservative than any supposedly conservative president in 30 years.

  3. He can call it Bipartisan when the only 4 Senators who ever cross over and vote with us, will cross over and vote with us, like they always do, because – TADA!

    The difference now, of course, is that now those 4 add up to 60!

    For the environment votes, last night we did get enough of the Republican obstruction out, that we will get to 60. Maybe not on other policy, but on the energy policy of Democrats, we have made it.

    Lieberman and Sanders are 2 Independants who vote with us. Collins, Snowe, Coleman and Smith are the 4 Republicans who vote with us. (so even tho Smith/Merkely and Franken/Coleman are still tied, whichever wins we get a vote for climate. 2+4=6.

    So 6 and we only need 54 to get to 60, but we got 56 so even if Landrieu sometimes slips and votes dirty, we made it.

    But, lets learn from the only two years Clinton/Gore got: ’93 and ’94. Obama and the Senate must move fast to get everything passed before the midterms.

  4. hapa says:

    JR: from 2006 i’ve been assuming that a greener president would have to work by proxy, through the state and city (“sub-national”) initiatives, aka “where the rubber hits the road.” this means first and foremost obama and company must:

    * lend moral, muscle, money, and legal support.
    * tell international meetings that “the country is divided on the issue, politically, but that’s perfectly natural considering the speed of the change; in any case those regional initiatives represent the forefront of american efforts.”
    * etc

    on a personal note it’s time for you to start distinguishing between reaching out to “conservatives” in washington and reaching out to their supporters on the street. the corrupt can be undermined with common sense. nixonland be gone!

    adrian: being fiscally conservative only means spending for a good return. the ecologically-sound program is also the economically-sound program, very much unlike pouring billions a month into war, taking on new debt to finance a tax shift away from the top bracket, or throwing “tread water” money at dirty industry to compensate for resource depletion.

  5. Brian M says:

    “…Politically, America remains a center-right country, and America loves a chastened and repentant sinner….”

    Can anybody tell my why Republicans constantly state that the country is center-right (which, is arguably true), but then try to campaign and govern from the far right. The key element in “center-right”, as it applies to the American public, is “center”. Until the Republicans can energize the massive center of the American populace, they will see their numbers shrink until all that is left are their far right, hard-core believers. It will be interesting to see whether (and when) they are able (and willing) to try and expand their reach by actually supporting candidates who are where the public is, in the center.

    Obama won because the American people can clearly see, from the center, that many of the real human problems we face are simply too big or complex to be effectively addressed simply by free-market alone. [Okay, that, and the fact that he got to run against a Republican party trying to carry the weight of 8 years in which it was its own worst enemy, both foreign and domestic.] From the center, America can recognize that government has a necessary, even important role, in driving solutions to such issues. From the far right, the Republican party can’t even see the problems.

  6. hapa says:


    a country that borrows to pay its basic bills doesn’t know what direction it’s going. once you start saying “put it on my tab” the rest of your politics is rated “junk” — meaningless, frivolous luxury goods — and someday, you reckon with that, because the great bank of reality sends over its goons to make you.

    pollution bubble, getting ready to burst.…