It’s been a couple of days since President Obama unveiled an ambitious new policy agenda intended to combat the climate crisis, and not surprisingly, conservatives aren’t happy about it. The White House probably doesn’t much care – the measures don’t require congressional approval – but the Republican message is nevertheless worth considering in more detail.
Indeed, I found it interesting yesterday when The Hill reported that congressional GOP leaders are “showing little interest in new fights with President Obama over the science of global warming.”
They’re battering Obama’s wide-ranging new climate plan with arguments it will cost jobs and hurt the economy.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), asked Wednesday whether GOP leaders will challenge Obama on scientific grounds, trained his fire elsewhere. “Our argument with the president right now is that he is picking winners and losers, he is harming innovation, and it is going to be a direct assault on jobs,” McCarthy told reporters.
This may sound predictable, but let’s not forget that for much of the contemporary Republican Party, the entirety of climate science is considered a communist conspiracy intended to destroy free markets. GOP officials don’t disagree with Democrats on how best to address the problem; they disagree with Democrats as to whether there is a problem.
We occasionally even hear from truly unhinged lawmakers, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) et al, who ask Americans to believe that global cooling is a possibility.
But therein lies the point: in response to the president’s fairly aggressive plans, Republicans appear to have given up on pushing the “it’s all a big myth” line, instead arguing that Obama’s plans must be resisted because they’ll undermine job creation.
It suggests GOP officials believe the public is inclined to agree with the White House on the science, so they’ll have to change the subject. Global warming deniers may dominate Republican politics, but the focus groups have apparently told party leaders it’s not what the American mainstream wants to hear.
Of course, the Republican pitch is a mess as a matter of substance, too.
For one thing, there’s ample reason to believe combating the climate crisis will help boost economic growth and innovation. For another, it’s a morally catastrophic argument: “Sure, we’re talking about an existential threat to humanity, but if it means undermining the coal industry, we’re not interested.”
Indeed, Matt Yglesias made a good point yesterday, arguing that Republicans don’t seem to have anything substantive to say on the issue at all.
Darren Goode offers a rundown of GOP options for blocking Obama’s new climate change initiatives and concludes that they really have no options. So what they’re going to do instead of mounting a substantive response is “use Obama’s climate agenda to hammer Democratic incumbents and candidates in red states in 2014 – and try to get them to cast tough votes” with things like “message votes seeking to cut off funding for EPA to work on the power plant rules.”
This is emblematic of the dysfunction that’s gripped American political culture. The GOP wants a total victory against efforts to curb CO2 emissions, but they can’t obtain a total victory, so their fallback option is … political posturing.
In theory, if Congress could function and if Republicans were a mainstream political party willing to help govern and solve problems, Obama’s speech would initiate a series of negotiations about a comprehensive policy. The truth of the matter is, regulating emissions through EPA regulation is not an ideal solution and plenty of environmentalists would prefer alternatives.
But Washington can’t pursue alternatives because GOP lawmakers aren’t willing to even have the conversation.
History will not be kind.