When inarticulateness pays off

WHEN INARTICULATENESS PAYS OFF…. I have no way of knowing if every anecdote from Matt Latimer’s “Speechless” is accurate. For that matter, it’s certainly possible that some are true and some are less true.

But Eric Zimmermann highlighted a story that that certainly seems plausible. It’s about a speech in which then-President George W. Bush decided to endorse a cap-and-trade policy in a high-profile speech, but no one could figure out exactly what he meant.

Connaughton, Bolten and others wanted the president to give a climate change speech. They thought that it would make our allies in Europe happy, and they were constantly pushing the president to the left on the issue. The small but merry band of conservatives in the White House — who were suspicious of climate change and the movement behind it — were opposed to any shift in our policy. They were adamantly against any speech supporting a cap-and-trade policy — a mandate on business to curb their CO2 emissions.

At one point, the words cap and trade were put into the climate change speech, with the president expressing his support for the policy. Then somehow this leaked to the conservative press. Republicans on the outside of the White House sent furious objections, and the words were removed. But only those words. The rest of the speech endorsing that policy remained. After days and days of postponements and fights, the president finally gave the speech. Conservatives in the West Wing were deflated by their loss in the policy battle.

And then something miraculous happened. Because the speech had been so parsed and litigated, no one could quite understand what the president was saying. The press therefore assumed nothing had really changed. So the next day the media reported that the president had in fact come out against cap and trade. A White House spokesman even said that the words cap and trade had never been included in any drafts of the speech, which was flat-out false. The president marveled at his good fortune. He’d changed his policy to please one side, but since he seemed not to have changed a thing, he’d also pleased the other. Indecipherable speechwriting at its finest. [emphasis added throughout]

Again, I haven’t seen independent confirmation of this, and I’m not even sure exactly what speech is at issue here. But this doesn’t seem especially hard to believe.

For that matter, the notion that a conservative Republican president could come around to embracing a cap-and-trade proposal is a reminder that the right need not throw a fit about this. On the right, it’s entirely too common to ignore evidence of global warming altogether, but for those willing to concede the need to limit emissions, cap and trade is a market-based mechanism, which has worked in the past, as compared to command-and-control directives.

Hell, even McCain and Palin offered at least tacit support for some kind of cap-and-trade mechanism last year.