Saturday, July 05, 2003

Can We Talk?

Amongst ourselves? About what is acceptable in the way of political rhetoric? Without getting verklempt?

Not if any of those guys at Spinsanity are listening, or we'd better be damn careful. And absolutely clear in how we phrase our ideas.

For instance, are we on the left being unfair to the Bush enviornmental policies?

Ben Fritz at Spinsanity thinks so, and chastizes Howard Dean, in particular, for "repeating a deceptive tale about the Bush administration over and over on the campaign trail.

In speeches and in interviews, Dean frequently implies that a Bush administration environmental policy called "Clear Skies" would actually lead to increases in pollution from current levels. "This country's in a lot of trouble," he said last week on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's in trouble because we have a radical right administration that are dismantling the New Deal and it is not telling the truth about a lot of things that they say. The Clear Skies Initiative ... basically allows you to put more pollution into the air."

What's Spinsanity's complaint? Mr. Fritz admits that environmental groups have made the point that the Clear Skies Initiative may diminish the level to which dangerous emissions would otherwise be reduced, if current policies and trends were left just as they are. And apparently, nothing less than that kind of nuanced explanation is acceptable political rhetoric.

While some environmental activists are upset about "Clear Skies," it's not because the plan would actually lead to increases in pollution beyond current levels

Okay, let's grant that Dean could have been clearer in what he was saying, but also please note that he was making a larger point about the administration's purposes, not participating in a detailed discussion of environmental policy. This was MTP and Tim Russert, for heaven's sake.

Ben claims Dean makes a similiar statement in his speech officially announcing his candidacy. Here's the only reference I could find that might fit Ben's description.

Our leaders have developed a vocabulary which has become meaningless to the American people.

There is no greater example of this than a self-described conservative Republican president who creates the greatest deficits in history of America. Or a President who boasts of a Clear Skies Initiative which allows far more pollution into our air. Or a President who co-opts from an advocacy organization the phrase "No Child Left Behind," while paying for irresponsible tax cuts by cutting children's health care.

Sorry Ben, but what's the problem with this statement again? Where's the implication that the "increase in pollution" is above current levels.

Maybe if it had just been Governor Dean, Ben might not have made a fuss. But he thinks he's spotted a worrying trend.

Unfortunately, the former Vermont governor is not the only one to spread this canard. The liberal journal accused Bush of implementing "a 'Clear Skies' plan that leads to more pollution" in one of its "op-ads" that ran in major newspapers.

The "op-ad" in question was a companion piece to the "Misled" commercial. It's basic point is that Bush/Rove have a habit of producing variations on popular programs that often do the opposite of what their catchy titles imply. Here's what I presume is the offending graph:

And it’s been showing cracks from the strain between the rhetoric and the reality of Mr. Bush’s policies: endorsing Medicare while trying to undermine it; a "Clear Skies" plan that leads to more pollution; promising to "leave no child behind" but underfunding his own education plan; and Robin-Hood-in-reverse tax policies masked as "compassionate conservatism."

Well, excuuuuuussssse us, but the Clear Skies initiative will lead to more pollution by any number of criteria.

Bush global warming plan will allow more pollution

President Bush’s global warming plans will allow more greenhouse gas pollution to occur at a faster rate than if the nation maintained the pollution trends of the past five years, a new study has found

Analysis by the National Wildlife Federation, of data released by the US Department of Energy (DoE), shows that over the last five years carbon dioxide emissions have gone up by 4.9% despite Bush saying he wanted to, “set America on a path to slow the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions.”

This increase is set to continue to 10% over the next ten years, if current trends continue.


The pollution increases we have seen for the past five years are bad enough for the environment, but the White House’s global warming plan would allow more pollution to occur at an even faster rate,” said Jeremy Symons, climate change and wildlife manager for the National Wildlife Federation.


The report comes in the same week that it was revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withheld key findings of its analysis of Bush’s Clear Skies initiative for power plant emissions.

The Clear Skies initiative is designed to reduce emissions from power plants over the next twenty years, yet does not address carbon dioxide – largely considered one of the most important greenhouse gases.

The EPA found that a separate senate plan to combat air pollution would be more effective in reducing harmful pollutants, if marginally more expensive. Crucially, the senate proposal has a carbon dioxide reduction plan that can be carried out at ‘negligible’ cost to industry.

Environmentalists have described the Clear Skies bill as a dilution of current EPA air pollution requirements and criticised the EPA for not releasing their full results.

I guess it depends on what your definition of "current levels" is.

This is nitpicking on an epic scale.

Spinsanity does useful, sometimes excellent work, and I don't only mean when they're taking it to rightwingers. I'm willing for my side to take its lumps when it's deserved. But something else is going on here besides non-partisanship.

Understand, I'm not accusing anyone of bad faith. I am accusing Spinsanity of seeing all political rhetoric through the distorting lens of conventional wisdom about what is or isn't "spin."

They are not alone in this. The mainstream media treats all campaign rhetoric as an enemy of truth. That attitude, along with a perceived need to appear even-handed and balanced produces a cynical attitude towards the political process, if not governance itself. Not good in a democratic society.

To be continued: Next: a historical example