Memo to NBC’s Chuck Todd: Energy and climate shake up the traditional political categories.

Now that energy and global warming have leaped into the political mainstream, lots of reporters who aren’t knowledgeable on either subject are writing and blogging on it.  And that means we can expect a lot of dubious sloppy suboptimal reporting by people who are more interested in the personality drama and traditional politics than in digging into the substance of this “new” issue — see Media stunner: When asked “Does it matter, from a journalistic point of view, whether [Freeman Dyson is] right or whether he’s wrong?” his NYT profiler replies “Oh, absolutely not.”

It also means we are going to get a lot of reporting on the subject from political experts who don’t understand that this issue has unusual politics:

  • We have “moderate” Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Charlie Crist embrace strong statewide climate action comparable to Waxman-Markey, but you can’t get a single GOP House member or more than a couple of GOP Senators to support such action.
  • You can have some traditionally progressive Congressional Democrats in certain regions who do not immediately embrace strong action.

The motivation for this post is NBC’s political blog, First Read, in which Chuck Todd attacked the Center for American Progress (Action Fund) for a press release, which I reprinted here, over this phrase:

Five moderate Democrats announced their support for ACES, including John Dingell (MI), Gene Green (TX), Bobby Rush (IL), Bart Gordon (TN) and G.K. Butterfield (NC)….

This caused Todd, who apparently needs to fill up space in his blog just like the rest of us — although he has a day job as NBC Political Director —  to go ballistic:

Did I read this right? Did CAP call John Dingell and former black panther Bobby Rush “moderates”? Take a look at their vote ratings from the National Journal (Dingell and Rush [subs. req’d]), it’s hard to call them moderates; Gordon, Green and Butterfield are probably definitional moderates, considering the states and districts they come from, but Dingell and Rush, come on. Maybe on the energy issue, as far as CAP’s concerned, Dingell is a “moderate” since he’s always been on the side of the auto industry on key emissions votes. But should CAP really call these two moderates? Stuff like this in official press releases can immediately cost folks credibility with readers of said releases.

Yes, Chuck, “maybe” on the climate issue they are moderate.  And this isn’t “as far as CAP’s concerned” — it comes straight from an objective, independent analysis of “Projected Vote Breakdown For Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act,” from E&E News, which put those 5 members into the “Maybe” category (see list at end of “Follow the money: Global warming polluters pay to undermine Waxman-Markey clean energy bill“).

I don’t think any reader of this blog or anyone who follows energy and climate issues closely would wince at the use of the word “moderate” for Dingell on this issue.  He has been one of the great obstructionists of action on making our automobiles more fuel-efficient and less polluting.

Perhaps “fence-sitting Democrats” or “Democrats who are moderate on climate” might have been a tad better, but this press release hardly deserves the harsh attack from Todd.

Does it “immediately cost folks credibility”?  Hmm.  Here is what Todd writes in his post:

The tea leaves continue to tell me that the likelihood of an energy bill that includes cap-n-trade won’t happen this year. Instead, smaller chunks on the energy front will be tackled as trying to get both health care and energy through this Congress is a lot to ask.

Well, that is a bit confusing.  The first sentence refers to passing an energy bill with cap-and-trade “this year.”  I have been blogging for months that that won’t happen (see, for instance, “(Reid: Senate to wait for House cap-and-trade bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news).”  So we don’t need to read any tea leaves.

But the second sentence refers to “trying to get both health care and energy through this Congress.”  This Congress lasts through next year, as Todd knows.

Pretty darn confusing, no?  Stuff like this in an official blog post can immediately cost folks credibility with readers of said blog posts.

If Todd is making the obvious statement that we won’t get comprehensive climate legislation this year, well that’s obvious.  But if he is suggesting that we’re not going to get cap-and-trade at all this Congress, well, I just don’t think he follows the issue close enough to make that judgment.

I think he’s wrong.  I think we’ll get a cap-and-trade this Congress.  And we’ll see whether my political judgment is better than that of NBC’s political director.

One final point.  Todd ends with:

Of course, this actually is a good reminder of how Democrats are still struggling with how to ideologically define themselves. There’s a big movement to change the word “liberal” to “progressive” and of course, many a Democrat likes the idea of being called a “moderate” even if they won’t utter the word themselves. But how to define Democrats, particularly Congressional Democrats: should they be in three boxes: liberal/progressive, moderate and conservative? Are they in two boxes: liberal/progressive and moderate? Actually, it’s a good challenge to you folks in comment land.

Actually, I think the more interesting issue is how global warming is changing the political landscape.  Climate science, as it were, has gotten more “progressive” in the sense that the reality of climate science and increasing greenhouse gas emissions has vindicated the positions of progressive climate science activists and clearly requires stronger action than was contemplated even a few years ago (see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“).

In short, the scientific reality should have shifted to the debate to the left, even if most DC politicians and journalists have not caught up to this shift.  So journalists that are viewed as “moderate” — like David Broder — are now “center right” if not “conservative” in their climate views (see “David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming“).  And the anti-science “conservative” Republicans have become Rush Limbaugh extremists (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh “” what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?“) who are filling up YouTube with the most absurd comments (see House GOP leader Boehner on ABC: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.”)

Outside of Washington politics and media, the debate has clearly shifted, as evidenced by GOP Governors like Schwarzenegger and Crist, and by the corporate support for climate action, which is a key reason we are poised to get a cap-and-trade bill.  As Obama said in his radio address Saturday:  “For the first time, utility companies and corporate leaders are joining, not opposing, environmental advocates and labor leaders to create a new system of clean energy initiatives that will help unleash a new era of growth and prosperity.”

If only the status-quo DC media could move beyond the old political labels to the new scientific reality.

6 Responses to Memo to NBC’s Chuck Todd: Energy and climate shake up the traditional political categories.

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    I wince at the use of the term “moderate” as a euphemism for “beholden to the fossil fuel and automobile corporations who have a financial interest in business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels”.

    Climate change is in no way whatsoever an “ideological” issue. The fact that climate change denialism and obstructionism has become an article of faith for so-called “conservatives” merely demonstrates the obvious — that so-called “conservatism” in America today is a fake, phony, trumped-up, scripted, focus-group-tested, teleprompted, corporate-sponsored pseudo-ideology that is deployed to bamboozle weak-minded, ignorant Ditto-Heads into parroting whatever propaganda America’s ultra-rich corporate oligarchs want to pay Rush Limbaugh to spew to his zombie audience.

    The so-called “conservative” Republicans and so-called “moderate” Democrats who are busily denying climate change or obstructing or watering down action to deal with it, don’t have an “ideological” bone in their bodies. They are simply bought-and-paid for shills for the fossil fuel and/or automobile corporations, doing what they are told to do by their corporate owners.

  2. Jade A. says:

    Looks like Chuck Todd just got owned. LOL@ “Stuff like this in official blog post can immediately cost folks credibility with readers of said blog posts”. You know I really liked Chuck Todds’ electoral map commentary during the presidential campaign. He was very methodical in his analysis, and had a prowess for electoral politics like no other. However since he’s been upgraded to Washington Bureau Chief for NBC, he’s been lacking. His political analysis does not provide the audience with a greater perspective and understanding of the topic at hand. His reporting sort comes off as amateurish.

  3. Ben Lieberman says:

    It seems that Mr. Todd is projecting his own apparent lack of interest and engagement with the issue onto others.

  4. PaulK says:

    My congressman Dan Lipinski (Dem. IL) has introduced a bipartisan carbon tax bill that he says is more effective, less complicated, easier to implement and administer and less likely to invite graft, fraud and abuse than Waxman-Markey. It even has Republican cosponsors.

    [JR: “Even”? The fact that it has any should tell you all you need to know.]

  5. PaulK says:


    If you’ll let me respond. All I need to know is that W-M is a terribly wrong approach. So far, your only criticism of a carbon tax is that it is not politically possible. That is no argument. Was President Obama politically possible? Don’t be afraid of a thoughtful comparison of Flake – Lipinski and Waxman – Markey.

    Here are two criteria.
    A carbon tax is easily assessed and collected. In fact, we already have a carbon tax in the form of gasoline, natural gas, heating oil and electrical utility taxes. The infrastructure of a carbon tax is already in place. It can be implemented immediately.
    Wax – Mar won’t go into effect for several years, requires the establishment of a bureaucratically regulated market, and, among other complexities, adds burdensome paperwork to both the private sector and governments at all levels.
    A carbon tax is easily understood. Parts of W – M are undecipherable.

    Security from favoritism, cronyism, graft, fraud, manipulation and other abuses:
    Have we learned nothing from Enron, Fannie Mae, hedge funds and ethanol subsidies? Waxman – Markey is an open door to corruption. Already, the bill is filled with special favors and exception doled out to special interests and their lobbyist. A carbon tax avoids these problems.

    [JR: This is getting tiresome and I’m not going to let you just keep posting arguments that have been thoroughly debunked. It is only your imaginary carbon tax that is simple. Jeez, have you ever looked at the US tax code? Do you pay U.S. taxes? the carbon tax that could pass the U.S. Congress — which is an oxymoron since a carbon tax could not pass the U.S. Congress, but let’s jump part way into your imaginary world — would be just as complicated as the cap-and-trade. It is the issue and the politics that are complicated, not the policy.]

  6. Philip says:

    Chuck Todd is a fantastic correspondent who is seldom accused of ‘dubious sloppy’ reporting. Speaking of which, can’t you just leave in your attack rather than striking it through to leave it still readable. That’s OK for humour but when you are attacking an individual reporter it isn’t very classy.

    As for Chuck’s ‘this Congress’ comment I think he was referring to the highly partisan (0 Congressional Republican votes for Stimulus as an example) and fractured nature of the Democratic side, rather than Congress as a 2-year time period.

    Finally, for someone who understands the value of rhetoric and public perception, I would have thought that you could do better than meticulously critiquing a very popular and talented MSNBC Political Director. This sort of sarcastic, acerbic blog-post is probably what turns a lot of mainstream folks off the ultra-activists.

    [JR: Your entire argument applies to Todd’s blog post itself. By blogging on relatively trivial political matters, Todd is I think hurting his “brand.” That’s his choice, but you don’t get a free ride in the blogosphere just because you’re “popular and talented.” I can’t imagine you believe that.]