Monday, October 15, 2007

The Return of Captain Disingenuous

Well, well - Captain Disingenuous is at it again. The link goes to Paul Krugman's latest op-ed piece in the New York Times - a fairly transparent attempt to stake a leftist counter to Charles Krauthammer's popular Bush Derangement Syndrome meme. According to Dr. Krugman, we're expected to beleive that there exists such a thing as "Gore Derangement Syndrome."


What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?


Hmmmmm... Well, let's start with the obvious. Does Mr. Gore actually drive any right-wingers "insane?" It's worth revisiting Dr. Krauthammer's definition of Bush Derangement Syndrome:


Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency -- nay -- the very existence of George W. Bush.


In other words, there is a large contingent of people who believe that whatever George W. Bush does as president, whether or not they would independently agree with the policy, is motivated by a scheming and cunning malice, whether or not they can prove it. That is "Bush Derangement Syndrome" - when someone spits venom against a policy they would otherwise agree with but that Bush favors it.

You don't have to look very far to find sufferers. A simple Google search for "Bush Hitler" turns up no shortage of links to websites - like this one - that are excellent cases in point. In a walk down Memory Lane, it also happens to turn up Moveon.org's ads along the same theme. And in fact, nearly any search for "George Bush" of any kind turns up troves of similar items.

Sufferers from any reputed "Gore Derangement Syndrome" are considerably harder to find. On the first page of a Google search for "Gore Hitler," all the links but two go to a Glen Beck quote (to the effect that Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth uses Hitler-like propaganda techniques). And those other two? Well, one is a bonafide right-wing nut site. The other goes to yet another environmentalist comparing a conservative politician to Hitler. Ah, the irony.

But alright - this isn't exactly a scientific approach. The point is just to show that it isn't obvious that there is such a thing as "Gore Derangement Syndrome." Quite the contrary - most rebuttals of Gore that I'm aware of are just that: reasoned rebuttals. In fact, I can't remember a time I heard Gore accused of anything truly nefarious. Certainly people criticize him, and certainly they accuse him of cherry-picking data and exaggerating facts to make his point. But I can't remember ever having heard anyone call him insincere, or accuse him of pushing a darker hidden agenda. By and large, Gore's critics take him at face value. They debate him on the issues. The same can't be said for George W. Bush's critics, who are as likely as not to say that he's "evil" or a "Jesus freak" or "the oil cartel employee of the month" or what have you. It isn't the same at all.

To the extent that people make fun of Gore, it mostly has to do with his wooden delivery style as constrasted with the celebrity status afforded him by a certain chronically-underinformed luddite section of the population. However sincere Mr. Gore himself may be in his crusade to save the planet, it's clear that most of his followers are not. I have yet to meet someone urging me to see An Inconvenient Truth, for example, who had the slightest idea what they were talking about. For the most part, they've taken the movie as holy writ, like the religious zealots they are, and they have no interest in discussing either the science behind it or the finer economic points of his proposals. Any suggestion that the movie may have made some mistakes is met with sneers - and yet make mistakes it did (nine of which are so egregious they now officially have to be corrected by any teacher showing the movie in UK public schools, for example). So yes, Gore bears his share of criticism from conservatives - but for the most part that criticism plays the ball and not the man. When it does play the man (which it admittedly sometimes does), usually it's some of his crazier followers who are intended - not Gore himself. And that's par for the course in politics; hardly what can be fairly styled a "syndrome."

But let's hear some of Dr. Krugman's "arguments." Just what is it about Al Gore that "drives right-wingers insane?"


Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House.


Oh dear, this again. That Dr. Krugman can't let this shibboleth go surely says more about him than conservatives. The 2000 election was close, but it was decided according to the laws of the land. If Krugman would like to change the electoral college system to something more populist, he is certainly free to take up that cause. But until the law actually changes, it is the Electoral College, and not the population directly, that elects the president. To be fair, Krugman did once try to make the claim that Gore also won the electoral vote, but his arguments have long ago been dispensed with.


The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


You almost have to marvel at the audacity of the sloppiness. First, we're generalizing from a single example. George Bush Sr. mocked Gore, therefore a substantial majority of conservatives must've agreed? These would, one presumes, be the same conservatives who turned out in droves to re-elect Bush in 1992 - because they loved him so much they stood by him when Ross Perot ... wait a minute ...

But even ignoring the fact that Bush I was decidedly not a conservative darling (as Krugman well knows), it's hard to forget that this was the same Bush who pushed through the Clean Air Act of 1990 - the only major revision to the Clean Air Act of 1970 (the one that created the EPA in the first place - which was, incidentally, pushed through by President Nixon), and the act that established the emissions trading scheme that Mr. Gore now favors extending to carbon emissions. Bush I was no foe of environmental causes. Probably if he mocked Gore it's because Gore didn't have a lot of basis for his claims at the time. The fact that scientists won a Nobel for coming to the same conclusions Gore did three years later does nothing to convince me that Gore was standing on an open-and-shut case at the time he made the claims. Anyone can be right by accident. To establish credibility, you have to have been right for a good reason. If carbon emissions were left out of the Clean Air Act of 1990, then it can only have been because there wasn't solid evidence at the time that they were so harmful. In other words, Gore had a lucky hunch.


In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.


Has it? It's certainly true that the war has gone badly, that chaos has ensued. But what about this chaos is actually dangerous to America? Quite the contrary - the chaos seems to be accomplishing exactly what Bush had repeatedly claimed he wanted - to fight the terrorists "over there" rather than "here at home."


But Gore hatred is more than personal ... for the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater..


This, at least, is partly right. It's true that advocates of small government do not want to admit that there is a climate crisis - but not because they doubt that a libertarian model of government can handle it (indeed, they believe it would be the best way to handle it). It is rather because they worry that the public will panic into adopting a strong-arm BigGuv solution. Indeed, they are right to be alarmed: people advocating state solutions to problems have, throughout history, resorted almost exclusively to public panic over a looming crisis (sometimes real, more often imagined or at least exaggerated) to justify their newfound powers. So yes, as an advocate of individual freedom and self-determination, I myself find Gore's version of the "truth" deeply threatening - because I am afraid of what the public can be coaxed into accepting in its name.

Krugman himself illustrates the point nicely here, actually. Notice first the claim that Florida will be underwater in a few generations. In fact, even Mr. Gore hasn't claimed anything so outlandish. But even if he had, this would hardly be the kind of "truth" that one could establish beyond any reasonable doubt - and that is because technology keeps on progressing. True - assuming that technological development stays the same, maybe the looming crisis will eventually be so bad that Florida will be underwater. Who knows? One thing I do know is that technical know-how has progressed throughout history. It is inconceivable to me that in a few generations we'll be relying on the same kind of industrial technology that we use today. And yet Krugman doesn't even want to consider the highly likely possibility that industry will itself develop cleaner technology with time (as it has always done in the past). For him, it's simply "true" that Florida will be underwater in a few generations if we don't approve massive government intervention in the economy to stop it. And this without any mention of the fact that China and India will presumably continue plugging along polluting at their current rate - but with massively expanded economies, meaning a much, much greater volume of pollution. In other words, whatever we in the US do to deal with our pollution problem is unlikely to change the future scenario much unless we get India, China and the rest of Asia on board - something that I don't recall hearing Gore or Krugman ever advocate. Any wonder why I'm scared?

And indeed, Krugman's claim (via FDR) that selfishness is "bad economics" - i.e. better let Uncle Sam tell us what to do instead - is simply not true as it applies to Gore. It has been estimated, for example, that Gore's proposals would reduce the cost of environmental damage by $12trillion, but would themselves cost over $34trillion. If that's Krugman's idea of "good economics," I'll have to ask he return his degree.

But of course I'm giving Krugman too much credit as usual. That he isn't arguing so much as burning straw men becomes evident in the next paragraph:


Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them. So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs — well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed.


Ah yes, why argue when you can call names?


Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.


I'll have to give him this one. The reason I hate Mr. Gore is indeed because so many people listen to him when they shouldn't. His movie is inaccurate - relying, as it does, on cherry-picked data, his proposals are economically unsound, and his "crusade" shows every sign of being aptly named. And yet he has followers. That shouldn't be possible among a public that discusses things honestly and intelligently. That Mr. Gore is a success at all is yet more proof (along with the success of Michael Moore, Moveon.org, and, yes, Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly as well) that the public is primarily emotional and partisan. I find that as frightening as it is discouraging. Dr. Krugman should too.

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