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David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming

By Joe Romm on April 14, 2009 at 8:22 am

"David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming"

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The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

That is attributed to Dante, but applies best to the Washington establishment, especially one David Broder.

Part 1 looked at why the establishment media’s coverage of global warming is so fatally useless.  Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas unintentionally provided the answer “” the shocking, unstated truth about the media elite: They have “a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are.”

But Evan Thomas is a B-list establishment journalist compared to the dean of the DC press corp — David Broder.  In two recent columns, Broder has combined a scientifically uninformed position on climate with remarkably flawed political analysis designed to support his position.  Let’s start with the absurdities in his most recent piece:  “Why the Center Still Holds“:

Once political independents, who like the idea of clean air, grasped that cap-and-trade would mean a big tax increase for them, Republican opposition was reinforced and Democratic support weakened to the point that the Obama plan may already be doomed this year.

Huh?  Cap-and-trade doesn’t mean a big tax increase (see “MIT Professor tells GOP to stop ‘misrepresenting’ his work and inflating the cost to families of cap-and-trade by a factor of 10“).   That would be a right wing talking point that they beat to death over and over again to sucker … well, it’s obvious who they are trying to sucker.  So much for Broder being a “centrist” or an independent.

I guess it always bears repeating over and over again that the combination of aggressive investment in energy efficiency and the President’s plan to return most of the auction revenues to the public means the majority of the public is held harmless — and indeed can actually lower their combined energy and tax bill if they adopt energy efficiency with the help of their utility or the federal government’s low-income weatherization program (see “Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost “” one tenth of a penny on the dollar“).

By focusing only on the cost of action, and ignoring entirely the cost of inaction, Broder is yet another poster child for the searing critique award-winning journalist Eric Pooley did for Harvard (see “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress”).

Second, who the heck didn’t “grasp” a long time ago that cap-and-trade would raise the price of dirty energy?  And when did any Republicans ever support action — you can go back several years to McCain-Lieberman and find very little support. Republican opposition couldn’t possibly be “reinforced” given that they have been dead set against any action whatsoever for years (see “Anti-science conservatives must be stopped“).

I grant that Democrats have done a lousy job explaining that a cap-and-trade never belonged in the budget in the first place.  Again, climate legislation was never going to be easy, but in any case nothing that has happened recently suggests Democratic support is any weaker — or stronger — than it was 2 years ago (see George Stephanopoulos, Nate Silver, and Marc Ambinder all seem confused about global warming and budget politics and “Moderate Senate Dems build ‘Gang of 16″² to influence cap-and-trade bill“).

And, of course, it doesn’t really bother me — and I don’t think it should bother most climate science advocates — if we don’t pass a bill this year since Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010.  And Obama certainly remains as committed as ever to a bill, something Broder conveniently omits (see Obama says his energy plan and cap-and-trade “will be authorized” even if it’s not in the budget “and I will sign it” “” Washington Post confused).

The really sad thing about Broder is that in two columns on the subject, he never bothers even mentioning a single reason why action on energy and climate is needed.  In the “End of the Honeymoon,” he writes:

I think the shift began when Obama moved beyond the stimulus bill to his speech to the joint session of Congress and his budget message. For the first time, the full extent of his ambitions for 2009 became clear — not just stopping and reversing the steep slide in the economy but also launching highly controversial efforts in health care, energy and education.

Each of those issues has a history in Washington — a history marked by congressional gridlock and legislative frustration.

In Broder’s world of uninformed centrism, if an issue has a history of gridlock and legislative frustration, then it is “highly controversial” and any president who tries to address these absolutely crucial issues is reaching too far.

Again, note that he never bothers to engage the substance of the issue.  The media establishment doesn’t care about substance.  It only cares about the status quo.  To repeat what Thomas wrote:

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence….

That would be David Broder.

Two final points.  Broder drags out seriously flawed political analysis to attack Obama as polarizing:

As for the voters, the Pew Research Center reported this month on a survey that showed the partisan gap in Obama’s job approval scores is the widest in contemporary history. He rated a thumbs-up from 88 percent of the Democrats and only 27 percent of the Republicans in the poll — a gap of 61 points.

At a comparable point in their first terms, the gaps for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were only 51 and 45 points, respectively.

Uhh, even the Washington Post‘s own political reporter, Dan Balz, explained a key reason for that change in statistics:

Another factor is that, in a shrinking Republican Party, conservatives hold more sway — and they are most likely to disapprove of a Democratic president’s performance. Exit polls show that 64 percent of Republicans who voted in November called themselves conservatives. That compares with 54 percent in 2000 and 49 percent in 1992.

So the main reason Obama appears to be more polarizing in terms of a 10-point bigger gap in relative favorability among Democrats vs. Republicans (compared to Bush) is that Republicans have gotten 10-points more conservative.

But that analysis would get in the way of Broder’s attack on Obama as someone who is polarizing because he attacks the status quo because he wants to avoid catastrophic global warming and deal with our unsustainable use of oil.

Or how about this from Broder’s first piece:

Congress has taken note of the way Obama backed down from his anti-earmark stance, a clear signal that he is leery of any showdown with the lawmakers. Despite his popularity, Obama is not an intimidating figure, and so he can expect to be tested time and again.

So let me see.  First, Broder attacks Obama for overreaching by trying to address “highly controversial” issues like energy, even though that is precisely what a president should use his popularity for.  Then Broder attacks Obama for not using his popularity for a “showdown” with lawmakers on the trivial earmark issue, which comprises about 2% of the budget.

Further note to Broder:  Even if Obama cut out all of the earmarks, it wouldn’t save a penny of taxpayer money since the earmarks just cordon off parts of the budget — Congress would still keep the spending.

But the bottom line is clear.  Broder thinks Obama should have burned up his popularity on a trivial process issue (earmarks), but that he should stay far away from the nation’s substantive problems like health care or energy, since that is only what polarizing politicians pursue.

The status quo approach of the David Broders of the the Washington establishment are the road to Hell and High Water.

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8 Responses to David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming

  1. Alan says:

    The quote from Dante is apropos. If these obstructionists succeed in achieving what would be the ultimate Pyrrhic victory, they might perhaps construct, somewhere in the middle of the desolation, a monument with the following inscription, this one from Milton: “Here at least we shall be free… Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

  2. Harrier says:

    Ugh, Broder. The arch-captain of conventional wisdom. It’s best to take everything he says and do the opposite.

  3. Gail says:

    I saw a Glenn Beck video that was posted on the intertubes which was hysterical (in both sense of the word!) First he fumed that conservatives had been disenfranchised causing me to retort, in my kitchen, No dufus you weren’t disenfranchised, you LOST! Then he ranted about how “we” voted for change, and this isn’t change! Does that mean Glenn Beck voted Democratic in the last election?

    Fortunately, Obama doesn’t appear to believe he needs to pay any attention to media whores and buffoons.

  4. Ronald says:

    Which reminds me of 2 books written by John F Kennedy, ‘Profiles in Courage’, and ‘Why England Slept.’

    Profiles in Courage in mid 1950′s discussed the courage of a few U.S. Senators and some of there votes and the hard time people gave them afterwards. That book made me realize just how hard it is to be the political spotlight. Imagine voting agains slavery in 1850 in the south. Or imagine voting against carbon fueled energy from an energy state.

    Why England Slept was, of course, the build up to World War II.

    Gives a good book title, ‘Why the World Sleeps.’

  5. GreenPRGuy says:

    Remember the airliner that went on flying on autopilot long after the failed oxygen system snuffed out all aboard? That’s Broder for about the past 10 years. Sad, really. But I don’t know how much heft he really carries these days (Will is headed in the same direction).

    It is, however, an interesting and unexpected curse to see the climate debate finally reach a level of seriousness that the DC press corps deems it worthwhile to treat it as just another empty horse race.

  6. Dean says:

    Although Democrats are back in power, they did so partly by ceding to some of the Republican talking/political points. The best example is guns. That isn’t a statement on what I or anybody think gun laws should be or the 2nd amendment means (I’m not starting a gun debate here!). Just that most Democrats, particularly at the national level, whatever their personal preference (and in conflict with their personal preferences in some cases), have decided to cede this issue.

    Another such Republican “messaging” victory is on how taxes are dealt with in the public sphere. The mantra about taxes has weakened _a bit_ for the very rich, mostly due to the economic situation.

    You might say that Democrats should challenge the characterization of cap and trade as a tax, but the point is that politically-speaking, they don’t want to fight that fight. If some policy is being characterized as a tax increase on the middle class, many Democrats will walk away from it, even if they don’t think the characterization is correct. They have other battles to fight.

  7. I agree with Dean’s comment.

    The current iteration of the cap and trade idea for CO2 quacks like a tax. There are unpleasant memories of the aborted BTU tax during the Clinton first term, which some Democrats blamed for losing the Congress in the 1994 election. http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/PDF/Getting%20Real%20on%20Climate%20Change.pdf

    Rather than borrow in today’s climate to build CO2 capture and treatment facilities, the utilities probably would just pay the penalty for continuing their usual emissions, then go to their compliant local PUC and get a rate hike to cover the increased cost to them. The public would end up paying for the emissions. If Congress can be trusted, the tax revenue from the utilities would be paid to the utility customers to hold them harmless. Net result: pollution as usual, and some money is shuffled around to no purpose. More likely, the consumer relief fund would be embezzled for earmarks and other more important concerns.

    There is a fundamental “free market” assumption behind cap and trade. But the utilities are monopolies, and local PUCs are lap dogs rather than watch dogs. Utilities can easily avoid penalties by passing the hurt onto their customers.

    There would probably be public support for a small rate hike to pay for upgrading the grid (e.g. the gas tax for highways) and to pay for deployment of CO2 solutions. After all, Americans enjoy very cheap power. But a big cap and trade plan might be a bridge too far at this point, as the Senate vote showed recently.

    [JR: Can't get to 550 ppm (let alone 450, let alone 350), without making dirty energy much more expensive. That is just reality. And, no, I don't think PUCs will let utilities do nothing and pass costs on to their customers.]

  8. Chester says:

    Evan Thomas is unbelievably cynical. I thought I was cynical until I started watching Evan on Washington Week. Last week he said Congress would never pass a cap-and-trade bill because it would cost money.