The right obviously isn’t pleased that the Obama administration’s EPA announced tough new environmental safeguards last week, regulating carbon pollution from existing power plants. But this week, the complaints took an unexpected turn.
The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, easily the most Republican-friendly territory in major American print media, published an item this week arguing that President Obama’s plan to combat global warming put policy ahead of politics – which the editors intended as criticism.
This will have far-reaching implications, especially for Democrats in energy-rich states and especially this year. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton would never have dreamed of rolling out this EPA regulation five months before an election.
The Journal’s editorial board went on to express dismay that Obama’s move was creating “stranded Democrats from energy-producing states.”
Oddly enough, Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist who used to serve as former President George W. Bush’s chief White House speechwriter, published a column today making a similar point: “[I]n the contest between presidential legacy and Democratic Senate control, Obama has chosen legacy.”
If you are a capable, electable Democratic Senate candidate – say, in Kentucky or Georgia – you can’t be very pleased with Obama. The EPA regulations require explanation, or desperate distancing…. [F]ive months before the Senate majority will be determined, Obama is complicating the messaging of some Democratic Senate candidates…. The president has always had a tendency to fly alone.
So, let me get this straight. Notable Republicans in media are publishing pieces this week arguing that when it comes to an environmental crisis, President Obama is being … too principled?
On a substantive level, the WSJ and Gerson may have a perfectly credible point. If the White House were solely focused on winning elections and advancing partisan goals, it’s unlikely the president would have allowed these new EPA safeguards to be unveiled during an election season. Maybe Obama would have waited until after the midterms; maybe he would have left the whole mess for his successor.
But instead, Obama did the right thing without regard for electoral considerations. In other words, the president rejected cynicism and choose to lead on an important issue, whether it helps his party at the ballot box or not.
Gerson and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal apparently see this as more odd than laudatory. Jon Chait joked the other day, “If only we had a president who crafted policies solely on the basis of partisan gain!”
It’s worth noting that the premise of the GOP’s observation may yet be flawed: there’s no reason to assume that Democrats will necessarily lose, in the short or long term, just because the president is launching an ambitious plan to deal with climate change. In fact, there’s ample evidence that the public – at least on a national level, if not a regional level – actually sides with the White House on this issue.
Indeed, Brian Beutler made a compelling case this week that Obama’s climate plan is arguably a greater electoral challenge for Republicans than Democrats, if not in 2014, than certainly in 2016.
But even putting this aside, I find it rather amazing that the president is facing criticism from Republicans in media for not caring enough about the Democratic midterm strategy. I had a list in mind of the kind of climate-related complaints the GOP would come up with this week, but this one never occurred to me.