Thursday, April 23, 2009

Answer the Damn Question!

I spend most Sunday mornings catching up on the week’s issues and events by watching several news shows that I’ve recorded on the satellite’s digital video recorder. I usually start with TPT 2’s Almanac and Washington Week and move on to ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopolous and NBC’s Meet the Press. I ignore Fox. If I skip the music and matters that don’t interest me on Almanac and skip the commercials on This Week, I can be up to date in a little over 90 minutes.

This past Sunday was no exception, except (sorry) it gave me an idea for this blog: Politicians do not like to answer direct questions. This Week started out with two interviews. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was first up. He was brilliant in his portrayal of the work of the Obama Administration and successfully defended its efforts from partisan attacks. He was necessarily vague about some aspects of the President’s policies. I accepted everything he said without pause or concern. ;-)

George Stephanopolous’ next guest was Republican Congressman John Boehner from Ohio. Congressman Boehner serves as the House Minority Leader in Congress and often serves as the spokesperson for the Republican Party. I was so startled by his exchange with Mr. Stephanopolous on the subject of carbon emissions and climate change that I had to watch the interview again to make sure I had heard it right over my hamburger/onion omelet (cooking is another part of my Sunday morning ritual).

Here’s the transcript of the exchange (with my comments in parentheses):

George Stephanopolous: Describing Congressman Boehner’s reaction to the decision to allow the E.P.A. to regulate carbon dioxide as means of controlling greenhouse gasses.

Congressman John Boehner: This decision is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to enact a national energy tax that will have a crushing impact on consumers, jobs and our economy. The Administration is abusing the regulatory process to establish this tax because it knows there are not enough votes in Congress to force Americans to pay it. (In 2006, more than 2 years before the election of Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had given the E.P.A. authority to regulate carbon dioxide in the Clean Air Act. The economic consequences of regulating carbon dioxide emissions are not a “national energy tax”. They are the wages of our sinful ignoring of the problem for decades and now being forced to implement extraordinary measures to try to save the planet. Repeat for effect: to try to save the planet.).

GS: Let me ask you then about energy. You’ve come out against the president’s plan to cap and trade emissions. So what is the Republican answer to climate change? Is it a problem? Do you have a plan to address it? (N.B. THESE are the "pending questions" referred to throughout below.)

JB: George, we believe in our “all of the above” energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach on energy. We’ve got to make sure we have resources of energy, green energy, but we need nuclear energy. We need other types of alternatives and, yes, we need American made oil and gas. (Technically, Congressman Boehner did not answer the question. It comes close only if we parse the answer to assume that Congressman Boehner believes that reduced reliance on fossil fuels will reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions.)

GS: But that doesn’t do anything when it comes to emissions, Sir – (Interrupted)

JB: When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it's pretty clear that if we don’t work with other industrial nations around the world, what’s gonna happen is that we’re going to ship millions of jobs overseas. We have to deal with this in a responsible way. (Still not answering the pending question, Congressman Boehner deflects the inquiry and moves to the politically expedient soundbite of focusing on American jobs.)

GS: What is the responsible way? That’s my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

JB: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it’s clear . . .[Interrupted] (This was the response that triggered this pondering. “Carcinogen”? Breathing? Blame the cows? Again, Congressman Boehner does not answer the pending questions. The House Minority Leader, prominent spokesperson for the national Republican party, is more comfortable belittling the threat of climate change from excessive carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by human endeavors than he is admitting there is a problem and offering a specific alternative to the E.P.A.’s regulation of carbon dioxide emissions.)

GS: So you don’t believe greenhouse gasses are a problem in creating climate change?

JB:... we've had climate change over the last 100 years -- listen, The question is, how much does Man have to do with it and what is the proper way to deal with this? We can’t do it alone as one nation. If we got India, China and other industrial countries not working with us, all we’re going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas. (Still no answer to the pending questions. Rather, Congressman Boehner again deflects by rewording and posing the same question back to Stephanopolous and, again, wrapping himself in the American flag.)

GS: But it sounds like what you’re saying is that you don’t believe the Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions. You’re suggesting it’s not that big of a problem even though the scientific consensus is that it is contributing to climate change.

JB: I think it is, I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer? (Ditto, absent the American flag.)

GS: And what is the answer? That’s what I’m trying to get at. (Thank you Mr. S.)

JB: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. (At least since the beginning of this interview.) They don’t want to raise taxes one and a half to two trillion dollars like the Administration is proposing and they don’t want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. (Deflection. God Bless America.) And so, we’ve got to find ways to work towards the solution to this problem without risking the future of our kids and grandkids. (Think about this. Most folks lacking the intelligence to serve in Congress [I’m making a BIG leap of faith here] discovered sometime before Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth that man-made carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the problem of global warming. So why, on April 19, 2009, is the House Minority Leader still in the “we’ve got to find ways to work towards the solution” stage? Because, of course, the House Minority Leader would rather play politics with the issue and use it to attack the Obama administration by engaging in economic fear-mongering than get on board a meaningful plan to save the planet and the future of his kids and grandkids.)

GS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?

JB: I think you’ll see a plan from us, just like you’ve seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget. (If you say it enough times, people will believe anything. And, by the way, Congressman Boehner never answered the pending questions.).

The bad news is that many politicians, including Congressman Boehner, cannot get past party politics to do the right thing for our society. The good news is that Americans seem more willing to publicly disapprove of such recalcitrance. We learned something during the eight years of the Bush Administration. We learned that when the pronouncements of our elected officials defy common sense, it is okay to say so and to react as we would to any other idiotic verbal diarrhea.

If the Republican party is unwilling to distinguish its environmental viewpoint from that of the coal lobby in a meaningful way, so be it. The party’s adherents are entitled to their opinions. But they ought to have enough respect for our democratic way of life to openly proclaim their position, by answering the questions, and let the electorate decide whether they belong in positions of leadership. Absent such respect, the Republicans are just a bunch of clowns trying to fool all of the people all of the time.


Elf said...

"When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it's pretty clear that if we don’t work with other industrial nations around the world, what’s gonna happen is that we’re going to ship millions of jobs overseas." -- uh-- what?? Can you say "non sequitur"? The rest of the conversation is, in fact, amazingly typical. That's one reason why I don't often listen to whole interviews or speeches any more and do rely on media to extract whether anything meaningful was actually said. Of course, when I do listen to the full thing, and then to the summary afterwards, I know that they'll put their own slant on it as well.

Dogs are so much more honest. Most of the time. Except when running for office.

P.S. Gorgeous header photo! Tomorrow morning I'll be posting on my blog some photos from a hike this week.

-ellen (from Prolific)

Kari said...

ALL politicians talk like this. ALL OF THEM. They are way to busy worrying about their re-election and special interest obligations to actually address any issue.

Anonymous said...

Have you read the so-called Cap and Trade bill? I did. It's a marvel of pandering to every possible constituency. If you seriously think, for even a moment, that the current congressional majority is any less concerned about power and re-election, and any more concerned about actual issues than were or are the Republicans, it can only be because you begin from the conclusion that Democrats are good and Republicans are bad, and arrive at the facts that validate that conclusion.

There's a third choice, and it is the more thoughtful one: partisan politics is much like the NFL: there are two teams, but they play in a single league, with a single goal and as long as that works out for them who really wins is just a show for the fans. Neither party is better or worse than the other. They exist simply to opose each other and so keep the game alive and that is evidently so.

Here: think about this. For the many decades of Democratic dominance, the Republicans wailed about deficit spending, while Democrats defended it as necessary for prosperity and not a problem of any note. When power changed hands and suddenly the Republicans in congress were spending in excess of revenue, just as surely as they instantly modified their former "position of principle" so did the Democrats who found themselves declaring their recent past practice a crisis when it was being carried out by the Republicans. Power changed hands yet again a few months ago, and the deficit hawks of yesterday are the defenders of profligate spending today. Anyone who thinks that there was EVER a matter of principle involved there, other than personal power, is not paying attention.

The moment you hear yourself decrying the fact that one or the other party really cares and the other is only interested in pandering to various interests for the purpose of moeny and re-election, you need to take a deep breath and remind yourself that in reality all 535 of them in Dc care more about each other and have more interest in common that any of them od with their constituents. Barney Frank and John McCain have more interest in common with each other than Frank does with a loyal Democrat gay activist in Boston or McCain does with a loyal Republican activist for border control in Arizona. If you don't get that, you really are not paying attention.