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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Novak’s Latest Stab-in-the-Back Theory

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.

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