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WashPost And AP: Obama Is ‘Liberal’ Because He Agrees With Most Americans We Need More Climate Action

By Joe Romm  

"WashPost And AP: Obama Is ‘Liberal’ Because He Agrees With Most Americans We Need More Climate Action"

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This Washington Post headline sums up so much that is wrong with the media and politics today:
I understand why fossil-fuel-funded conservatives assert that climate change is “liberal.” By why does the Associated Press and WashPost fall into that trap?

I guess it’s true, as Stephen Colbert famously said, “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” See also David Frum Tweets: ‘Horrible Possibility: If The Geeks Are Right About Ohio, Might They Also Be Right About Climate?’ [Though I'll leave it to others to explain just why it is liberal to want to let women be (officially) in combat!]

These remarks in Obama’s inaugural are, apparently, what the AP and Washington Post consider liberal:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

Now even Rasmussen, a firm with a well-known conservative bias, found in a poll the day before the election that 68% of American voters see global warming as a “serious problem.”

Uber-wonk Nate Silver dismantles the media’s lame frame in his look “at the most recent polling on some of the agenda items Mr. Obama laid out:”:

The PollingReport.com database includes two polls on global warming conducted after the Nov. 6 presidential election. An Associated Press-GfK poll in the field from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 found that 78 percent of respondents said they believed the planet had warmed over the past 100 years, and 49 percent said they thought global warming would be a “very serious” problem for the United States if left unaddressed (31 percent said they thought it would be “somewhat serious”).

Fifty-seven percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said the United States government should do “a great deal” or “quite a bit” on global warming.

A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll conducted Nov. 8 to 11 found that 57 percent of adults said they thought global warming was increasing the likelihood of storms like Hurricane Sandy.

I guess liberals are now a (silent) majority in this country!

Even the WashPost‘s own economic and White House reporter, Zachary A. Goldfarb, mocks this media spin in his piece, “Obama’s daring liberal agenda is neither daring nor liberal. Discuss”:

In his speech, by contrast, Obama hewed closely to public opinion. He defended “the commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security” — but did not propose expanding the safety net.

“Judged on an absolute scale, going back to Roosevelt, that’s a pretty centrist or conservative position: ‘I’m opposed to cutting it,’ ” said James Stimson, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Back in the 1970s, the two parties jostled about who could be more generous in dispersing Social Security.”

… Obama’s call to battle climate change in his second term underscores a similar phenomenon. His position sounds liberal because it appeases the environmental base of the Democratic Party and because Republicans have increasingly opposed efforts to stem global warming. But there wasn’t always such an ideological gap between the parties. In the 2008 presidential race, Obama and his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), had almost exactly the same plan to help solve the problem of a warming planet.

Looking at this history and today’s opinion polls, it would seem pretty easy to find consensus in America on a lot of big issues — not just “liberal” or “conservative” solutions.

Then again, in Washington, everything needs a label.

Yes, well, the media in particular need a label. Heck, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where I work, is routinely called ”liberal leaning” by the media because we support things like climate action.

Goldfarb notes, “the central mechanism of Obamacare — the individual mandate, which Republicans blasted as a massive liberal exercise of power — began as a conservative idea.” And cap-and-trade was actually first put into law for controlling pollution by President George H. W. Bush.

Obama is basically pushing a moderate Republican agenda. It’s just that there aren’t any modern Republicans left, much as we don’t have any “below average temperature” years any more. Shifting baselines, indeed.

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28 Responses to WashPost And AP: Obama Is ‘Liberal’ Because He Agrees With Most Americans We Need More Climate Action

  1. Two reactions to this. The first is the Republican Party failure to recognize shifting baselines. This is true with climate, immigration and several other topics.

    The second is that it seems to open up room for a restructuring of American political parties. It is easy to envision a scenario in which a diminished Republican party retains the right, a new party, maybe the Greens, occupies the progressive left and the Democrats have a long run of success occupying the middle.

    • Superman1 says:

      Right; we ‘need’ more climate action as long as we don’t have to give up our profligate use of unlimited cheap fossil fuels.

  2. john atcheson says:

    Republicans are still operating on a teleological though process — that is, they use facts to prove what they already believe, rather than to help them know what to believe. A corollary is that when facts don’t fit the belief, they get tossed out.

    This is a sure route the medieval style civilization, with all the “benefits” that provided.

  3. Ozonator says:

    Liberal is the extreme GOP code-word for fact-checking depriving them of immediate cash windfalls. For example, “East Texas has not seen such frequent earthquakes since 1964. The question is, why the sudden increase in earthquakes again? A geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey said the recent earthquakes recorded in Timpson are most likely caused from waste water disposal injections from hydraulic fracturing. However, Ragan Dickens with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association said the earthquakes could be caused by an earthquake fault line that runs through East Texas.  “It’s hard to say exactly what causes these plates in the earth to shift, but what we can look at is historic data. Historic data shows that there is an earthquake fault line in East Texas that has been around since the early 1800′s … these earthquakes have been going on for well over 100 years, whereas hydraulic fracturing first got its start in 1949,” Dickens said. However, Arthur McGarr, a geophysicist for the USGS has a different opinion” (“What is causing these East Texas earthquakes?”; By Shaley Sanders; kltv.com, 1/25/13).

  4. Steve says:

    No surprises for me in this headline and labeling, but it’s not because Obama is particularly “left” on the issue. It’s how the problem has been presented, the culprits identified, and the solutions proposed… all of which have similarities to traditional liberal ideas in this country.

    I personally believe liberal/progressive thought needs to evolve precisely because of climate change and resource depletion challenges.

    First, climate change was initially framed as a moral obligation to future generations, largely connected to preserving the biodiversity and ecology balance of the planet — often viewed as a liberal environmentalist bias of
    nature over people, with an almost abstract futurism slant to it…with implications for modern freedom and pursuit of material progress (which the right likes to get all excited about).

    Second, as is evident on this blog, the solutions are heavily weighted in favor of federal government regulatory and taxing powers. State and local efforts are downplayed, and you will rarely find articles here advocating or explaining the need for individual action (including lifestyle changes) to address this problem.

    Third, the left has a very difficult time telling the middle class and “huddled masses” that they are a big part of the problem. The focus is on the super-rich and the fossil fuel corporations, along with radical right “thinkers.” The reality is that most of us are fossil fuel gluttons. The left has this bizarre need to be “loved” by everyday people… their protector against the capitalist or whoever… and cannot stomach the idea that people have a generally easy, wasteful, lazy good thing… and they are screwing it up for themselves, their kids, and all future generations.
    Again, show me articles on this blog they suggest otherwise.

    Fourth, the messaging in favor of clean energy ultimately evolved into a special interest protection — or at least the perception of it being so — and liberals are often seen as an odd assortment of special interests looking for government aid at the expense of middle and upper middle class taxpayers.

    Whether you agree or disagree, that is the perception outside the Beltway and among those not part of the political elite. Climate activists need to do two things: 1) emphasize the broad range of negative public health, public safety, national safety, and economic stability associated with the failure to address climate change; 2) tell people they have a personal responsibility to be part of the solution rather than a continuing part of the problem.

    My two cents worth from the Center Left…

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Climate activists are already making those two points. The problem is that the message is being ignored or distorted by American media, and many Americans still have no idea of the dangers that we face.

      • Steve says:

        Mike, maybe in closed quarters among the already committed (and primarily to one another), but not as a public education strategy with the exception of the Nissan Leaf ads (and that was product marketing, not politics or activism).

        Al Gore started out that way along with Bill McKibben, to a lesser degree, but both have now focused their resources and tactics on “targeting a visible enemy,” namely fossil fuel companies and the anti-science/disinformation Right.

        As often noted here, Big Green’s messaging seems to be more conservation-oriented than anything else, which many everyday people reject out-of-hand as so-called tree-hugging preference of endangered reptiles over people’s “basic needs.”

        Actually, in the “old days,” Big Green was more willing to shame those who littered highways and parks, but no one these days seems interested in shaming the Escalade and Hummer owners (and the great flock of people who emit just as much GHGs through similarly wasteful and ostentatious consumption).

        I am not saying that employing target enemy politicking is not to some degree warranted, but I doubt in the long run (and we don’t have a long run) it will succeed in reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. We need a critical mass of educated people who lead by example by buying EVs, hybrids, and rooftop solar, and by significantly reducing their direct and indirect fossil fuel gluttony and generally excessive consumption patterns. Thoreau was recently cited for his stance on civil disobedience… what about the simple lifestyle he advocated (and lived)?

        As I see it, modern climate activism tactics seem to be doing three things — allowing everyday Jane and Joe off the hook, creating the impression of this being just one more battleground of conflicting political and economic interests (something for political elites and lobbyists to spar over, not once-every-two-years voters), and empowering the opposition to feel justified in targeting the Left in response… and isn’t that what much of talk radio and Fox News is driven by?

        As an example, I’d prefer to see 350.org spearhead either a general boycott or a company-specific boycott, rather than have a rather sympathetic investor class (liberally-minded universities with large endowments) divest certain stock holdings, which are more likely than not to be snatched up by hedge funds and mutual funds exploiting temporary (and artificial… because it is not P/E or profit margin driven) selling pressure.

        There is some emerging discussion of climate impacts to national security, but it is still very abstract and futuristic, though that could change overnight if there is a pronounced world food crisis. Ironically, the call for energy independence from Middle East oil barons (and unfriendly dictators) led to opening up US reserves to more drilling of fossil fuel energy, and only secondarily helped renewables.

        I am okay with the tactic of emphasizing green job growth, both in job openings and quality of work/income, but it is rarely linked to responsible, “make a difference” advertising directed at consumers.

        The broad range of public health issues — compromised food stocks, spread of diseases (including new strains), and widespread mental health effects — is rarely discussed on a public educational basis. I think this is a critical oversight. People are being left wholly unprepared for the adaptation they and their children are soon going to be forced to go through, albeit not hitting everyone the same way at the same time.

        Frankly, beyond what has already occurred due to the concentration of wealth occurring for other reasons and planetary resource depletion, the demise of the old fashioned “American Dream for all” will be one of those impacts, and it will prompt widespread angst, depression, anger, and all of their societal effects.

        Very simply, though — has anyone ever see a television ad or billboard or poster-board by Big Green or anyone which is designed to transcend the tendency of the modern internet and television viewing to be largely pre-selected by the viewer, and not put out there “in your face” where it cannot be ignored (like anti-smoking ads, be it television or billboards)? I don’t sense the “movement” wants to hold all of us fossil-fuel gluttons accountable except maybe in closed intellectual circles or academic papers or special interest blogs.

        Several commenters here make the observation regularly, but none of the site’s editors do so. If it is considered “polite” not to point out the implications of modern-day consumption patterns, then it is a “politeness” that does a large disservice to all.

      • Steve says:

        Mike, I have a longer comment in moderation, but I’m essentially saying I’d love to see a prime-time television ad campaign with short comments about widespread personal-level climate change action coming from, say, 3 or 4 Hollywood stars, a couple NBA stars, and a few NFL stars simply saying, “We’re all in this together. Climate change is real, it’s happening, and we all need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

        Get a good ad agency and commercial director to intercut graphics with interview clips.

        By analogy, I remember when they had the no nonsense ads about child abuse with messages by imposing images by athletes such as NBA center Mark Eaton…. not exactly the same thing here, but something divorced from politics and environmentalism (though they can commission and fund it)….Steve

    • Timothy Hughbanks says:

      “as is evident on this blog”

      Do you even READ this blog? Practically everything Stephen Lacey posted on this blog went even further along the lines of point (2) than you’ve indicated. Not only has this blog told “people they have a personal responsibility to be part of the solution”, but it has been providing information about just HOW they can be part of the solution. As for point (1), it is incomprehensible to me that you could describe what Joe Romm as not emphasizing “the broad range of negative public health, public safety, national safety, and economic stability associated with the failure to address climate change”.

      • Steve says:

        Tim, I’m talking about the solutions and strategies advocated on this blog for influencing widespread behavior.

        I don’t think there’s much discussion here of outflanking federal government inaction by launching a mass publicity campaign to everyday people, and I certainly don’t see Big Green spending its donor dollars doing so.

        You are right, though, Mr. Lacey comes the closest (where has he been?)

        Due to some 20th Century victories (the 30s and 60s in particular), Progressives/Liberals tend to count on the US federal government to “make good things happen” (which many see as a “liberal” agenda because it’s “big government,” and I say that without negative connotation, but merely to explain the “labeling” in the press).

        What if it’s not working, or barely working? That’s all I’m saying….

  5. Henry says:

    I’m actually not sure what the big deal is here. So what if they brand Obama as “Liberal”. Compared to most on the far right, he may be. Is that so bad?
    A Conservative president would never have spoke in favor of gay rights or same-sex marriage. Nor would a Conservative president have pushed for an agenda to address Climate change.

    • Timothy Hughbanks says:

      Indeed, what has come to be described as “conservative” has made me wildly enthusiastic about being called “liberal”. As far as I’m concerned, conservatives have embraced an ideology that is stupid, corrupt, xenophobic, reactionary, mysogynistic, selfish, and downright insane in its denial of basic realities – and they’ve chosen leadership who perfectly represent those characteristics. If wanting nothing to do with them makes me a “liberal”, I’m proud – eager even – to counted as a liberal.

  6. Salamano says:

    Isn’t this the same sort of thing that happened during the Bush years to quantify him as an “extreme conservative” despite several policy positions polling 50% or better among the public?

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “I understand why fossil-fuel-funded conservatives assert that climate change is ‘liberal’. By why does the Associated Press and WashPost fall into that trap?”

    Oh, Joe — you are such a kidder.

    Of course you know the answer: because the Associate Press, and the Washington Post, are every bit as “fossil-fuel-funded” as the so-called “conservatives”.

    That’s why, for example, the Post’s main reporter on climate change, Juliet Eilperin, STILL includes nonsense and falsehoods from deniers like John Christy and Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Jr. in her articles on developments in the science of climate change.

    Even now, at this late date, the Post’s editorial policy continues to give false equivalency to the handful of fake, phony pseudo-skeptics.

    Pretending that climate change is a “liberal” issue is part and parcel of the propaganda the Post is foisting upon its readers.

  8. glen says:

    Talking about the WP — the latest from GFWill.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-will-obamas-recipe-for-a-conservative-revival/2013/01/25/f12f3746-6667-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html?hpid=z2

    I thought his past environment related opinion posts were bad, but this is an all time low.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      More proof of a fact that climate and ecological realists seem often to forget about the Right, certainly today’s morally insane and Enlightenment rejecting hyper-Right. There is nothing, no disaster (unless it impacts them directly, perhaps)no amount of rigorous science, no appeal for sanity from the rabble, that will cause the Right to ‘change their minds’ and come over to humanity and join the fight to save our species. They will never admit error, as their egomania is too gross, their thought processes do not aim to arrive at truth, but, rather, to reinforce predetermined bigotry and bias and they do not, in any case, give a stuff what happens to humanity when they are dead. Indeed the more intelligent ones (and it takes real imbecility to believe the denialist canards nowadays)know the truth, but they hate other people so very much that they are deliberately inflicting harm on humanity. It’s the same psychopathy that excuses torture, or drives more and more children into poverty, or that speculates on and profits from food commodities, despite knowing full well that it leads to hunger, under-nourishment and suffering amongst the poor.

    • SecularAnimist says:

      See, that’s how I knew Joe was joking around when he asked “why” the Washington Post “falls into the trap” of asserting that global warming is a “liberal” issue.

      George Will is the poster boy of “fossil-fueled-conservatives” who are basically paid to deliberately deceive and mislead the public about the reality of global warming. The Post editorial board isn’t “falling into” anything when they print column after column by this cynical fraud, whose clumsy lies have been debunked by the Post’s own reporters. Like the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, they know exactly what they are doing.

  9. Lisa Boucher says:

    The real problem is all those liberal CO2 molecules from Socialist and Communist countries like France and China.  Patriotic CO2 molecules don’t cause global warming, because they respect our freedoms.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    One of the many things I find annoying about US political discourse, is this ridiculous dichotomy between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. As Chomsky observed decades ago, before the more florid manifestations of moral insanity and spiritual degeneracy on the Right became evident, so-called ‘conservatives’ are mostly, if I recall him correctly, ‘statist reactionaries’. That is they control the state through money power dominance of politics, and they use the state to enrich themselves and squash the serfs into the mire.
    That’ll do me, and, of course, the neo-feudal project, that was embarked upon by the more misanthropic elements of the rich from the 1970s onward, has produced remarkable results. Inequality unparalleled. Endless wars of aggression across the planet. Social welfare relentlessly attacked and reduced to a pittance. More children living in poverty and/or reliant on food stamps than ever. Household indebtedness sky-high, trade unions obliterated, the MSM oligopolised and turned into a straight PR and propaganda tool for the Right. By every measure, US society made more nasty, pitiless, ruthlessly competitive(with the competition rigged)anomic, mindlessly materialistic, sadistic (witness the broad support for torture and its presence in mainstream ‘entertainment’)etc. And this ethos, this ideology of the war of all against all, with the winner taking all, has been imposed across the planet, with similar, often worse results in injustice, inequity, unfairness and social cruelty.
    And, all the while, as this forty year Crusade, which, despite the collapse of neo-liberal economics into the mire of unpayable debt and shriveling mass consumption by the immiserated proles, is being cranked up, yet again, to march on to greater glories, proceeded, the ecology of the planet began to crumble. Now we stand on the brink of universal destruction, certainly of our ‘civilization’ and probably our species, yet the ‘conservatives’ refuse to acknowledge it or change their destructive behaviour in the least. You see they are not ‘conservative’, they are ‘wicked, and the dichotomy, we must never forget, is not between ‘conservative’, ‘Right’, ‘reactionary’ or ‘individualistic or libertarian’ against ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’, ‘Left’, or, even, ‘socialist or collectivist’, but between Good and Evil, between Life and Death.

  11. Paul Klinkman says:

    Throughout history, people have struggled to call things by their true names, or to find some way of muddling through the language, in the face of massive political corruption. No emperor, general or robber baron can handle the truth, or rather, no peasant can handle the backlash.

    My favorite way of coping with truth comes from Bulgaria, I believe, where shaking your head “yes” still means “no” after many centuries. When the Muslim invaders asked the peasants if they believed in Muhammad they all shook their heads yes, so as not to lose their heads.

    “Liberal,” as in liberal arts, originally meant that people critically and fairly examine political issues. Fairness is a bad word to the egregiously corrupt, so “liberal” now means something bad. Because the American free press is occasionally fair, they are labeled “liberal” which is a bad thing.

    In reality we should call the big press mostly a bunch of panderers to their big wealthy advertisers. They have no intention of going all liberal on their own patrons.

    However, there’s an ideological divide between the country’s massive wealth accumulators who want to protect much of their wealth by spreading the rest around, and the people who want to Scrooge their entire lives away until they are dead, and then they expect to go straight off to Heaven because of all the good they’ve done in the world. To provide the latter with all the ideology and economics that they can hold, the wingnut media industry plunges forward. They report their ideologically pure news, you decide. They’re the media that label the ideologically impure wing of corporate-friendly media the “liberal” media, and the impure wing doesn’t take this as a compliment.

  12. Leif says:

    Progressives need to jump on a issue that is black and white enough for even the tin hats to understand on a personal level. IMO that is the unfair taxation of “We the People” to be taxed in such a manor that it leads directly to the astronomical profits of the few and the pollution of the commons for all of us. The original “Tea Party” was the rebellion of taxation without representation. Today the “socially enabled capitalistic economy” is far worse. Taxation in support of the ecocide of the planet as witnessed by all who have the guts to look. All the taxes that I, have paid in my life time would not cover one day’s worth of subsidies to the top five richest fossil Barons out there. The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine. A precedent. Why do progressives allow our taxes to subsidize the richest fossil Barons in the world? The the rape and pillage of the Earth’s natural resources? The ecocide of the Planet. The very future of all life forms evolved since the dawn of time itself? The future legacy we leave for our children? The mystery, IMO, is not that the Tea Party is gullible to the big money propaganda but that most of progressives are so passive.

    • David Smith says:

      I second leif’s comment and would like to add;

      1) To the extent that corporations gain control in the US government our involvement is lessoned leading in the direction of taxation without representation.

      2) When powerful corporations manipulate the US government, the laws and the enforcement of those laws for the personal gain of those corporations and those who profit from them, they are weakening capitalism, probably wrecking capitalism and the possibility of free enterprise. (I like capitalism, by the way.)

      3) The government should not control the means of production and the means of production should definitely not control the government.

  13. Omega Centauri says:

    Its really nothing new, that the American public polls considerably more liberal on issues, than they do in elections. I think it is some combination of low voter turnout among those who lean moderately liberal, as well as the vulnerability of many voters to the same PR tricks that have gotten many to vote against their own interests. So having an issue poll well, is no guarantee that you can make political progress on it.

  14. Consider the Connection to:
    Environmental Communication CTC1
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    http://www.twitter.com/CTC123GREEN
    http://www.pbckt.com/aY.8V1o

  15. Anne says:

    I’ve been noticing a new group called No Labels, http://www.nolabels.org — not sure how effective they are or could be, but, the idea is appealing. Labels are limiting, confining, and almost always unfair and inaccurate. Everyone’s political views are usually a mixture of “liberal” and “conservative,” whether they know it or not, or are willing to acknowledge it. If people just focused on the issues without the baggage of branding them, we could probably do a lot of great things together. Idealistic, yes, but something better needs to occur before we keep digging ourselves in deeper and deeper. No Labels. I like it.

  16. BillD says:

    On the one hand, it’s amusing that being pro-science is considered a “liberal agenda.” Certainly this GOP view should increase the chance of Democrats to win the House and Presidency in future elections. I think that the GOP’s anti-science positions will continue to erode their support among young voters. On the other hand, anti-science obstructionism is really hurting the country and the world. I’ve always considered it a “given no-brainer” that science should drive environmental policy. Scientists point out the facts and the risks, then we have a reasoned debate on how to proceed rationally. As this article points out, as recently as five years ago, many Republicans, including GOP candidate McCain, supported acting to limit climate change. Let’s hope that the Tea Party and Koch Brothers and their ilk become discredited, even in the Republican party.

  17. peter whitehead says:

    Reality is just simply a communist plot designed to stop freedom lovers from doing freedom. Send reality to Gitmo NOW!