In Defense Of Politics

Pick your battles carefully. Ignoring that, here is my response to an American Prospect post by Tim Fernholz wondering when I became Mark Halperin. Not liking Halperin, or blaming him for all the ills that befall modern political journalism is a la mode, so for the sake of being contrarian, I'm OK with being associated with a guy, who, whatever else he may be, is a hell of a political reporter.

That said, this blog deals primarily with the intersection of politics and policy, and that's the model I used to write a quick post on Obama's oil drilling announcement. I won't pretend to pose as an expert for the sake of a blog post. It's disingenuous. I do know a fair amount about the subject, though, which is how I arrived at roughly the same conclusion as Brad Plumer (whom Tim Fernholz favorably cites.)

I'm not sure what Fernholz takes issue with: the analysis that environmentalists are going to complain about this -- or that they tend to complain a lot, both of which are true. You can complain about something and be right about it at the same time. But the reason why it's relatively easy for the Obama White House to assume that they can absorb the inevitable complaints is that many environmental groups haven't figured out how to communicate about their issues effectively. I'm a believer in global warming, but I'm not going to help the environmental lobby do its job. What I'm going to try to do -- and it gets to the point that Fernholz's commenter makes about me -- is try to explain why political actors make the decisions they do.

If you're going to causally dismiss a group of people who are concerned about an issue and have bothered to learn some of the facts behind it, you better have a good argument as to why their complaints don't matter. A lot of the most important political advances in our history have come from groups that complain -- civil-rights activists complain, LGBTQ activists complain, certainly the advocates of health-care reform complained a lot. The substance of their complaints isn't beyond the ken of anyone who wants to learn.

The violin plays!  Suddenly, we've gone from an abrupt but, I think, accurate description of the environmental lobby to Marc Ambinder is suddenly down on environmentalists, and, by extension, civil rights advocates, health care advocates, and even gay rights activists.  (!)  The (!) is for those who know me.

The point is that the environmental lobby is pretty weak. So it's beyond the ken of a brief post about politics to assess the substance of their complaints, which the White House has already dismissed and/or incorporated.  By the way, the civil rights lobby -- more of a movement -- did politics much better than environmentalists today do. Health care reform advocates -- they're a mixed bag in terms of effectively and persuasively communicating about politics.

Often, in pulling back the curtain and explaining why the White House is really doing something, I get accused of being a stenographer. That epithet is easy to wield and hard to justify; it's a way of criticizing without doing any actual reporting.

Am I being the White House stenographer here? Did Rahm Emanuel call me and give me the talking points? No. How can you be sure? Well, for one thing, I'm attributing to the White House a political motive that isn't exactly peaches and cream. I'm saying, directly, that the president is a bit cynical about whether a bunch of oil is going to be extracted from these shales anytime soon.  My analysis is based on what the White House itself is telling environmentalists and on several conversations with White House officials about the politics and policy of climate change over the course of several months.