Deplorable Behavior

It’s not going to happen Wednesday, either.

Joe Romm of Climate Progress noted last week that if Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz failed to introduce a specific question about climate change at the Clinton-Trump II debate, the question would never be brought up in Clinton-Trump III:

We’ve had two debates where the moderators ignored the story of the century, the greatest preventable threat to the nation and the world. The fourth and last debate will be moderated by an anchor for Fox News (aka climate denial central), whereas this third debate is a town hall.

That means actual voters may be the last hope in this election to actually ask the candidates a question on global warming and end climate silence.

Certainly what the journalism profession has been doing in promoting climate silence in major debates is nothing short of malpractice. Indeed, In his Friday New York Times op-ed, “What About the Planet?” Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explains, “There is, quite simply, no other issue this important, and letting it slide would be almost criminally irresponsible.”

Although climate change did come up in Clinton-Trump I and Clinton-Trump II, that was only because Clinton, not the moderators, introduced the topic. Clinton will presumably have to do it again like Steely Dan this Wednesday, since Chris Wallace is not going to touch it.

It’s fairly obvious why, in 2012 and again in 2016, presidential debate moderators don’t want to discuss climate change. Between 1988 and 2008, both the Democratic and Republican nominees rejected the view that human-caused climate change was a hoax, though the Republican nominees were generally less enthusiastic about taking strong action on climate than the Democratic nominees. Therefore, the moderators could ask questions about climate change without being accused of somehow favoring the Democratic nominee by posing such questions.

However, in 2012, Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination after disavowing his past efforts to forge bipartisan consensus on addressing climate change. Because of Romney’s shift, debate moderators were scared to death of being brutalized by Romney-Ryan rumpkissers on social media if they asked Romney any questions about the climate crisis, questions that would put Romney’s position in a bad light. The easiest way to avoid such criticism was to take climate change off the table.

The moderators are even more afraid of Trump’s supporters than they were of Romney’s, which explains why they never had any intention of talking anew about CO2. We will likely hear the sounds of climate silence again in the 2020 presidential debates unless a) the moderators grow a spine or b) the GOP somehow nominates a non-denier. (I have a better chance of marrying Jennifer Lawrence than seeing either of those prospects become reality.)

In his 1971 book The Conscience of a Majority, failed 1964 GOP nominee Barry Goldwater declared:

While I am a great believer in the free competitive enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment. To this end, it is my belief that when pollution is found, it should be halted at the source, even if this requires stringent government action against important segments of our national economy.

The number of Republicans who believe Goldwater’s words today is exactly the same as the number of times the debate moderators brought up climate change in 2012 and 2016.

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.