I guess after many, many years of reading Robert Novak’s twisted columns, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything he writes. But in his syndicated column today, the Prince of Darkness reaches a new low in sheer weirdness and mendacity. Its hypothesis is that Tony Blair is stabbing poor, honest George W. Bush in the back by conspiring with U.S. environmentalists and double-dealing politicians to force U.S. compliance with the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change, for the express purpose of destroying U.S. economic growth. Watching Novak construct this argument is stomach-churning. There’s the blind quote from a “White House aide” planting the lurid idea that “Kyoto was never about environmental policy…. It was designed as an elaborate, predatory trade strategy to level the American and European economies.” There’s a wildly out-of-context 2001 quote from a European Commission official suggesting Kyoto is about, well, a lot of things, including economics, which in no way supports the Novak hypothesis. There’s the weird and unsubstantiated assertion that Europe’s industries “have been devastated” by Kyoto. And there’s the total misrepresentation of Blair’s position, which is not to demand U.S. accession to Kyoto, but to create a “parallel track” where the U.S. takes some action to reduce carbon emissions (a position embraced by Bush during his 2000 campaign, and abruptly abandoned once he took office), pending further negotiations on a common strategy to deal with climate change. This whole, ridiculous argument is predicated on the right-wing assumption that action on greenhouse gases is incompatible with economic growth. Tell that to the growing number of U.S. business executives–most recently, those at Duke Power, a major utility–who believe action on this front is not only compatible with economic growth, but is essential to maintaining U.S. competitiveness on the new, clean technologies that are emerging to deal with the greenhouse gas challenge. But of all Novak’s twisted arguments, the worst is this idea of Bush as a victim of some sort of conspiracy. “Bush is surrounded by hostile friends” on climate change, says he. It’s true, of course, that most scientific experts within the administration are convinced climate change is a potentially catastrophic problem, with especially catastrophic implications for the U.S. economy. It’s true that most rank-and-file Republicans think this is a challenge worthy of national action. It’s even true that a growing number of conservative evangelical Christians are identifying this as an important “stewardship” issue. And it’s true some, though not enough, Republicans on the Hill have decisively separated themselves from the right-wing argument that this is all some sort of bogus anti-growth effort to make us all live in grass huts and bicycle to work. But Bush’s genuinely false friends are those, like Novak, who persist in encouraging him to defend a head-in-the-sand position on climate change that’s as deeply irresponsible as the administration’s fiscal policies. Since this is a president who seems to enjoy being told he’s always right, I somehow doubt he’ll figure this out.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.