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The failure of conservative elites

There's been an interesting conversation happening about why the GOP is the only major right-of-center political party that doubts the science behind global warming. See Ron Brownstein and Bill McKibben's contributions, and then read this take from Ross Douthat, which I find convincing:

What’s interesting, though, is that if you look at public opinion on climate change, the U.S. isn’t actually that much of an outlier among the wealthier Western nations. In a 2007-2008 Gallup survey on global views of climate change, for instance, just 49 percent of Americans told pollsters that human beings are responsible for global warming. But the same figure for Britain (where Rush Limbaugh has relatively few listeners, I believe) was 48 percent, and belief in human-caused climate change was only slightly higher across northern Europe: 52 percent in the Czech Republic, 59 percent in Germany, 49 percent in Denmark, 51 percent in Austria, just 44 percent in the Netherlands, with highs of 63 percent in France and 64 percent in Sweden. (Doubts about anthropogenic global warming are considerably rarer, the study found, in southern Europe, Latin America and the wealthier countries of Asia.)

There’s a reasonably large Western European constituency, in other words, for some sort of climate change skepticism. (And probably a growing one: In Britain, at least, as in the United States, the economic slump has dampened public enthusiasm for anti-emissions regulation.) But the politicians haven’t been responding. Instead, Europe’s political class, left and right alike, has worked to marginalize a position that it considers intellectually disreputable, even as the American GOP has exploited that same position to win votes.

This isn't a very popular statement, but there is a role for elites in public life. Just like I want knowledgeable CEOs running companies and knowledgeable doctors performing surgeries, I want knowledgeable legislators crafting public policy. That's why we have a representative democracy, rather than some form of government-by-referendum. But of late, the elites in the Republican Party are abdicating their roles, preferring to pander to the desire for free tax cuts and the hostility to Al Gore than make tough and potentially unpopular decisions to safeguard our future. That isn't to say, incidentally, that Republican politicians should agree with me. But maybe they could agree with AEI fellow and former Reagan biographer Stephen Hayward.

By Ezra Klein  | October 13, 2010; 2:28 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Are you implying that government-by-referendum is a bad thing? If so, why?

Posted by: jtravisrolko | October 13, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

In the long run — besides being dead — we get what we deserve.

If we're not smart enough to vote for people with intelligence on the subject of climate change, but rather for science-deniers, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Posted by: tomcammarata | October 13, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Are you implying that government-by-referendum is a bad thing? If so, why?

Posted by: jtravisrolko | October 13, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Are YOU asserting that government by referendum is a GOOD thing? If so, how would you differentiate it from mob rule, or do you think mob rule is also a good thing?

Christine O'Donnell represents the ultimate devolution of the GOP approach - 'Vote for me - I'm YOU' (and don't pay any attention to the fact that I have my head firmly up my _ss). It's the ultimate in poltics as the art of stirring up people's lizard brains, rather that treating them as intelligent and responsible participants in their own governance. In other words, it's not democracy, any more than Hitler's Germany was.

Posted by: guesswhosue | October 13, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Are there any left of center European parties that accept the output of computer simulations as unquestionable facts?

Posted by: tl_houston | October 13, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

jtravis: Are you implying government-by-referendum is a good thing? I for one am only knowledgeable enough to have an educated opinion on so many issues and I'm happy to delegate the power to make the votes and compromises of governing to someone else just as I'm happy to make my rick crispies out of plain rice every morning. I'd be more happy to delegate to someone competent, intelligent and earnestly trying to find the right answers and do the right things but a good man is hard to find these days.

Posted by: keatnik | October 13, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

"Are YOU asserting that government by referendum is a GOOD thing?"

I didn't, but I am asserting it now.

Democracy is not mob rule. Democracy is a system which is dependent upon the consent of the public. Mob rule is a system in which a certain group of people, especially a majority, dominates another. Mob rule could be potentially totalitarian, while democracy is dependent upon the consent of everyone, so it precludes mob rule. Democracy is NOT, and never was defined by majority rule. Majority rule was just a poor attempt at determining the will of the public.

"It's the ultimate in poltics as the art of stirring up people's lizard brains, rather that treating them as intelligent and responsible participants in their own governance. In other words, it's not democracy, any more than Hitler's Germany was."

With direct democracy, none of this could take place. Representatives would be irrelevant.

Posted by: jtravisrolko | October 13, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

It gets back to the "to the battlements!" mentality of our political culture. Take one issue. Any issue. Find the side that at least purports to have the same view as you on that one issue, and then go to their side of the field and put up with all of the rest of the nonsense. In fact, you may begin to participate in the nonsense yourself.

What's your stance on abortion? From that I could probably predict with 80% certainty what your stance is on taxes, the stimulus package, global warming, and the war in Iraq. What's your stance on environmental regulation? Once I knew that I could predict with 80 % certainty what your view is on the Patriot Act, the Second Amendment, and HCR.

The big joke being played on all of us is that most of this crap is a distraction from the corporate takeover of our Democracy. Brought to you by Dems and Repubs both.

Posted by: klautsack | October 13, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse


If you really think that your representative knows better and you prefer to be governed rather than control your own life, then a compromise might be to let the public vote on legislation if they want, and to also have representatives to vote for people who don't want to vote themselves. The representative's vote could be assigned to all the people in his or her district who didn't vote.

Posted by: jtravisrolko | October 13, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin is what you get when you choose politicians who give you sound bites without substance: all ideology and no facts. (I'm still haunted by the story in a Vanity Fair piece about how, during a debate for candidates for Governor of Alaska, one candidate had statistics to back up his answer, and when it was her turn, she not only dissed him for relying on factual information, she said it wasn't necessary!). No, thank you. Let's get the facts out there, and then we can debate the different partisan positions on those facts.

Posted by: reach4astar2 | October 13, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

And here's another good point about a failure to embrace facts:

Posted by: reach4astar2 | October 13, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

tl_houston, none of which I'm aware. Your point?

Posted by: MosBen | October 13, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

And here's another good point about a failure to embrace facts:

Posted by: reach4astar2 | October 13, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

If President Obama were smart he would make the policy proposals from this report into a bill and dare, DARE the GOP to oppose it. I'd love to see the headlines "GOP kills conservative's bill on Clean Energy and Climate Change"

Imagine watching Republicans trying to argue against their own think tank.

Posted by: world_dictator | October 13, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Leaving all the politics aside, I clicked on the Stephan Hayward link to the Breakthrough Institute site and read the article and summary. I've downloaded the entire white paper for further reading.

My interest was initially sparked by the fact that the paper had been written by the AEI and Brookings Inst. in cooperation with Breakthrough. I figured it had to be interesting. I was not disappointed. Moreover, as a moderate or centrist who's very much interested in clean energy innovation, increased global competitiveness, climate change, and cost efficiency I found this report well worth consideration. I plan to send it to my Senator, Barbara Boxer, and ask her to read it.

This report indicates smart thinking and collaboration. Now, if we can get "politicos" to start thinking and behaving this way, we might gain back our competitive edge before the BRIC countries clean our clock!

Posted by: valkayec | October 13, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I like this take on Douthat's column:
"The truth is, American Republican politicians have pulled off a very neat trick. They've tapped into widespread grass roots anger that manifests itself in all kinds of volatile ways, while pursuing a political agenda that primarily benefits elites and specific corporate special interests. When those two match up -- as in the case of climate change skepticism, the GOP is golden, and the politicians feel free to rant away. But when they don't match up: taxing the rich, for example, they are remarkably quiet. The real difference between the U.S. and Western Europe may just be that politicians in Europe can't get away with such arrant hypocrisy."

Posted by: reach4astar2 | October 13, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

The simple fact is that political elites in Western Europe are no more committed to action on climate change than are those in the US. They differ only in the amount of lip service given.

Those countries signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which obligated them to reduce carbon emissions, but they haven't actually done so. Europe's emissions continue to climb. (They only achieve legal compliance with Kyoto by lumping themselves together with the Eastern Europe countries whose economies collapsed in the 1990s). Similarly, when the Democrats had filibuster-proof power here in the US, they didn't even try to pass a climate-change bill.

Essentially, therefore, it's not a matter of intellectual repute but of intellectual candor. No major party in the US or Western Europe is going to get serious about cutting emissions, but the Republican party is the only party honest enough to admit it.

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 13, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you could replace the word's "global warming" with "death penalty" and be just as accurate.

Posted by: RZ100 | October 13, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

(other links on page)

From: Hal Lewis, University of California, Santa Barbara
To: Curtis G. Callan, Jr., Princeton University, President of the American Physical Society

6 October 2010

Dear Curt:

When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago).

Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence—it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs. For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

Posted by: MrMeaner | October 13, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that the elites in the Republican Party abdicated their role way back in 2000, when they didn't try to keep Bush from winning the nomination.

Posted by: KennethAlmquist | October 14, 2010 2:53 AM | Report abuse

"From: Hal Lewis, University of California, Santa Barbara
To: Curtis G. Callan, Jr., Princeton University, President of the American Physical Society

6 October 2010"

His biography makes him sound more like a nuclear engineer than a climatologist. But, hey, who's counting?

Posted by: klautsack | October 14, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

jtravisrolko @ October 13, 2010 2:51 PM wrote "Are you implying that government-by-referendum is a bad thing? If so, why?"

Look at California.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | October 14, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

OK, so according to Prof. Lewis, Dwight Eisenhower warned the American Physical Society not to get corrupted by big money.

It's not just that he isn't a climatologist, he a professor EMERITUS, and a little checking shows him to be 87 years old, possibly retired for 20 years. Anyway, he makes no cogent argument against Global Warming -- just claims everything is corrupted by money and that anyone (read: any sane non-lying liberal lousy excuse for a scientist scumbag) who read the so-called ClimageGate emails would draw the same conclusion as he does. Oh yeah, somebody used the word "trick" the way a mechanic would say "I used the old trick of sliding a long pipe over the end of the wrench to get more leverage".

And yet, people like James Delingpole are claiming this is the biggest thing since Martin Luther nailed his however many theses to the door of whatever. I've also heard the phrase "shot seen round the world" used.

For another big flap over nothing and how it was milked (and interesting insight into the division of labor within the great liberal hating and baiting cult), see

Posted by: HalMorris | October 14, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

I firmly believe that one of the things the "right" has going for it all the stories, including "the global warming hoax" which the mainstream media can be accused of suppressing, which the Mainstream media does indeed not print, either because it isn't true, or it's a non-story.

If they were ever to give up climate change denial, and more importantly the "great liberal hoax" that is the other side of that coin much of the wind would go out of their sails.


Posted by: HalMorris | October 14, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

By the way, have we all seen this piece in the National Review which directly challenges the "Global Warming is an evil liberal power grabbing hoax" myth.

Bet lots of people were calling him RINO that week.

Posted by: HalMorris | October 14, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

President Obama is what you get when you choose politicians who give you sound bites without substance: all ideology and no facts. President Obama played everyone for suckers. He told everyone what they wanted to hear or was so vague on issues people could hear what they wanted to hear and people voted for this.
Also he played the race card constantly. Why should we trust the elites when they give us candidates like Obama? Democrat elites are just as corrupt and self-serving as the republican elites.

Posted by: tennismom1 | October 18, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

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