Voice of Reason

Good on former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) for giving the back of his hand to Gov. George Wallace, er, Mike Pence over the latter’s invitation to intolerance:

“I would not have passed this to begin with,” Richard G. Lugar, a former longtime Republican senator from Indiana, said in an interview. He added that he and three former Indianapolis mayors as well as the current mayor, Greg Ballard, also a Republican, intended to convey their concerns to Mr. Pence. Asked whether repeal would be preferable to some revision, Mr. Lugar, who was also once the mayor of Indianapolis, noted the complications.

“That’d be the cleanest way of remedying a mistake,” Mr. Lugar said, “but my guess is that a good number of the people who voted for this do not believe it is a mistake. The problem is pacifying them.”

Lugar, of course, represented one of the last vestiges of non-insane conservatism in the GOP–and, for his alleged ideological sins, he was crucified by the Tea Party in 2012, losing a Senate primary to a Pence-style wingnut named Richard Mourdock, who of course went on to lose the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.

I have more respect for Lugar than I have for the allegedly rational Republicans who keep their mouths shut whenever prominent members of their party do something nutty. For example, where were the pro-carbon-tax Republican economists such as Irwin Stelzer and Henry Paulson when Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) recently put forward a budget amendment scorning the idea? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page went after Sen. Blunt the way Stelzer and Paulson should have:

Coal is very dirty fuel. Some of its pollutants can be scrubbed out, though the energy industry is fighting those regulations, too. The carbon dioxide in coal plant emissions can’t be scrubbed out. It goes into the atmosphere. The cost of that is socialized, passed on to society at large in the form of a hotter planet.

A carbon tax would require consumers to pay the social cost of fossil fuels — coal, gasoline, natural gas, methane, etc. When the social costs of private investments (say in a tank of gas) are included in the price, economists called it a “Pigovian” tax (after British economist Arthur Pigou).

Already the price of a tank of gas includes Pigovian taxes for wear and tear on federal and state highways. Your electric and gas bills have Pigovian fees built in for utility company infrastructure. A carbon tax would be a fee to cover the cost of damage you’re doing to the atmosphere…

Conservative economists like Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, who worked for President George W. Bush and for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, have proposed replacing payroll taxes with a carbon tax. Instead of taxing income, you’d tax the consumption of a damaging substance.

Other nations have adopted carbon taxes without disastrous results, offsetting them with tax deductions and rebates. This December, when the nations of the world meet in Paris to establish new goals for addressing climate change, it would be good if our exceptional nation wasn’t an exception. Right now all we bring to the carbon tax discussion is a firm belief in the concept of a free lunch.

If non-insane Republicans want their party back, they’re going to have to stand up and denounce the folks who kidnapped it in the first place. Lugar has done so. Stelzer and Paulson, among others, have not—and why not? Do they have laryngitis?

UPDATE: More from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.