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Image: Close up of a burning gas stove.
Maciej Toporowicz / Getty Images

Gas stove tantrum reflects Republicans’ post-policy cynicism

The White House is not coming for your gas oven. Republicans know that, but they see political value in trying to pull one over on the public.

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As the last Congress was getting underway two years ago, as Senate Democrats prepared to pass the American Rescue Plan, then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled an online video focusing on his priority at the time.

Oddly enough, it had nothing to do with the massive legislative package. Instead, in the midst of a dramatic Senate debate, the Republican released a video in which he read a Dr. Seuss book.

As we discussed at the time, this wasn’t a situation in which prominent public figures read to children; it was a political exercise because Republicans were outraged — or at least pretended to be — after Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced plans to pull some decades-old children’s books that included racist imagery.

It wasn’t just McCarthy: Conservative media was far more interested in Dr. Seuss than the American Rescue Plan, and the National Republican Congressional Committee started offering donors copies of “The Cat in the Hat” as a way of enticing campaign contributions.

Around the same time, Republicans expressed public concerns about the removal of “Mr.” from the Mr. Potato Head brand and Disney’s decision to add a disclaimer to some episodes of “The Muppet Show.”

All of this, of course, reflected a post-policy party, preoccupied with cultural grievances and cynical ploys, and wholly indifferent toward governing.

Of course, at the time, Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. GOP officials could’ve raised substantive objections to Democratic proposals, or perhaps even unveiled policy alternatives, but they had the luxury of apathy: Republicans didn’t have to care about governing, and they didn’t.

Two years later, it’s a different story: Voters handed control of the House to the GOP, putting Republicans in a position of power and authority. And yet, while the party has moved on from Dr. Seuss imagery and Potato Head toys, it remains preoccupied with cultural grievances and cynical ploys. Roll Call reported last week, for example:

[O]n Wednesday, Republican Reps. Bill Huizenga of Michigan and Alex X. Mooney of West Virginia introduced legislation that would prohibit any federal agency from proposing, implementing or finalizing a rule that bans or restricts gas-powered stoves or cooktops.

The proposed bill, naturally, has been named the Stop Trying to Obsessively Vilify Energy Act — or the STOVE Act.

If you have no idea what this refers to, please know that I envy you.

To briefly summarize, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, pointing to research on public safety, indoor pollution, and childhood asthma, raised the prospect of new safeguards related to gas stoves. No one would be forced to replace their existing stoves, but a political backlash soon followed anyway — with far too many Republicans effectively telling the public that President Joe Biden was on his way to American kitchens to take their ovens away.

Among the things to remember about this is a simple truth: Republicans know how dumb this is. They know Biden, wrench in hand, will not confiscate any household appliances.

But the party can’t shake its reliance on juvenile antics. The focus on Dr. Seuss, Potato Head dolls, and inefficient lightbulbs has given way to pointless rhetoric about gas ovens and executive orders about critical race theory in states in which no schools teach critical race theory.

Republicans do this for a variety of reasons, none of which is especially compelling: The party enjoys scoring cheap points, keeping activists they see as fools fully engaged, providing fodder for conservative media, and creating the basis for new fundraising gimmicks.

The result is a steady flood of manufactured outrages the GOP knows to be absurd, with the next unpredictable nonsense soon to follow.