CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, THE SELF-DESIGNATED VOICE OF THE PEOPLE…. For much of the Bush/Cheney era, the notion of making policy decisions based on what’s popular was deemed silly, if not offensive. Real leaders, we were told, don’t stick their fingers in the air to see which way the wind is blowing; they make the tough call and do what’s right, regardless of popularity contests.
The position was always something of a post-hoc rationalization, but it had a certain charm. It’s a shame Republicans abandoned it.
In the debate over health care policy, the GOP and its allies are obviously obsessed with public opinion — to the point that they routinely lie about it — working under the assumption that Americans’ judgment is paramount (except on all policies in which the public agrees with Democrats).
This week, Charles Krauthammer tries a similar tack with EPA regulation of carbon emissions.
“I think it shows how ideologically determined the Obama administration is even after being chastised heavily in the midterm election about overreaching. It’s trying to reach around Congress, around the will of the people — and Congress when it rejected cap-and-trade — essentially imposing the carbon tax on the country which doesn’t want it, but it’s going to try to do it by regulation.”
There’s a lot of nonsense packed into this paragraph, but this is important, so let’s unpack it.
First, Krauthammer tells us what midterm voters were thinking, which is rather presumptuous. He thinks the results were “about overreaching”; I think they were about punishing the status quo with an unemployment rate near 10%. To support his analysis, Krauthammer points to nothing in particular.
Second, Krauthammer tells us the “will of the people” is to not have the EPA use its authority under the Clean Air Act to combat climate change. How does he know “the people” happen to agree with him? Krauthammer doesn’t say, but he’s apparently designated himself the voice of America. How gracious of him.
Third, Krauthammer mentions in passing that Congress “rejected” cap-and-trade. That’s only partially true — a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate approved of the policy (which, by the way, used to enjoy the strong backing of the Republican mainstream, before the party’s recent descent). It’s not the policy’s fault Republicans resorted to unprecedented obstructionism.
Fourth, the Obama administration isn’t “trying to reach around Congress,” at least not in a practical sense. Lawmakers were given a choice — pass legislation to address the climate crisis, or the EPA would have to act. Congress made its choice, so the EPA is moving forward, with the backing of a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
We can have a serious debate about the merits of cap-and-trade vs. Clean Air Act regulation vs. carbon taxes. There’s more than one way to address the problem. We can even have a conversation about the public’s understanding of these issues, and the relative value in approving unpopular policies (if they are, in fact, unpopular).
But Krauthammer’s take is just lazy — he assumes, based on nothing, that “the people” agree with him, and that effectively ends the discussion.
The discourse has to be better than this. There’s too much at stake.