Pay no attention to the lobbyist behind the curtain: Ross Douthat says the GOP is just reflecting the people's will
Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times op-ed columnist and blogger, offers an intriguing explanation for why Republican politicians in the U.S. are far fiercer in their climate skepticism than their right-wing counterparts in the rest of the world. He points to polling data from Western Europe that suggests that large swathes of the populations of countries like England and Denmark don’t believe in man-made climate change either, and suggests that the difference between there and here is that American politicians are more responsive to what the people believe.
There’s a reasonably large Western European constituency, in other words, for some sort of climate change skepticism… 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 G.O.P. has exploited that same position to win votes.
The debate over climate change isn’t unusual in this regard. On issues ranging from the death penalty to (at least until recently) immigration, America’s major political parties generally tend to be more responsive to public opinion, and less constrained by elite sentiment, than their counterparts in Europe. Overall, I much prefer the American approach, populist excesses and all.
Bill McKibben does a much better job than I ever could of exploring, and bemoaning the intellectual roots of conservative climate change denialism. But I think he gives short shrift to a factor that undermines this notion of Republican “populist” street cred — the extent to which Republican positions on climate change mirror the priorities of the energy industry that has poured so many millions of dollars into opposing any meaningful action on climate change.
Because I just don’t think this notion that the Republican party is fundamentally in tune with the will of the people holds water. Polling indicates that Americans generally support higher taxes for the rich. Republican politicians do not. Americans of all political persuasions seem pretty mad at Wall Street. Republican politicians believe that even the mild regulatory reforms introduced by the Obama administration go much too far, and have been happy to jump on the Obama-is-anti-business bandwagon. Polling suggests that Americans take a dimmer view of free trade right now than they have in generations. I may be wrong on this point, but I’ve seen very few Republicans campaigning on an explicitly anti-trade platforms.
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.
More Related Stories
- Is the Environmental Defense Fund ruining environmentalism?
- Top 5 investigative videos of the week: "Winning" Afghanistan
- Jester clowns Westboro Baptist Church
- GOP: Party of crybabies
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11