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Tom Friedman has been doing great work on green issues for a while now, certainly given them a higher profile than any mere green blogger could. So I guess he's owed some latitude. But his recent column is just an outright nuclear disaster: head-slappingly wrong on the merits, politically naive and tone deaf, and timed so poorly as to be malicious. Just about every single sentence is a train wreck.
Start with timing: next week, Congress begins an intense round of hearings on a comprehensive Democratic energy/climate bill. Not some pony plan from a columnist's daydream. Not an obscure bill introduced by a backbencher to make a symbolic point. An actual, serious piece of legislation: the bill Democrats on the relevant committees will sign off on; the bill Obama will support; the bill that will go to the Senate; the bill that could, if everything goes well, if everyone in the progressive coalition rallies behind it to generate overwhelming political pressure, become law. If you are serious about wanting energy and climate legislation in this Congress, this is your chance. No other. The game is underway.
So now, on the cusp of an enormous fight against dishonest and well-funded proponents of doing nothing, Friedman decides it's time for "an alternative strategy, message and messenger"? Are you kidding me?! The only conceivable effect Friedman's endorsement of an alternative bill can have is to divide support and distract attention from the best chance for a serious energy/climate bill in 30 years. His timing could not possibly be worse.
I'm sure Friedman would respond that hey, he's not a Democratic operative. He's an independent thinker. He's under no obligation to stump for a bill that doesn't make his mustache tingle. And in this he's like all progressives. They all want to be the Smartest One in the Room. None of them want to sully their purity by compromising or rowing in the same direction. They all want to show how you clever they are, how their pony plan, their messaging, their strategy is the one those silly legislators ought to be using. Meanwhile, the coordinated opposition kicks their ass, over and over again. But at least they're clever!
Secondly: the bill that's heading into hearings next week is a comprehensive effort to address energy/climate issues. It's got major, history-making provisions boosting clean energy, accelerating energy efficiency, and upgrading the national electricity grid. It sets standards for fuels, for electrical generators, for appliances. It's 600 pages long, and about a fifth of it is devoted to the carbon cap. And that's deliberate. Dems are well aware that the clean energy, energy security, green jobs, and economic renewal messages are their strongest. They know the carbon stuff is wonky and unpopular. So they put everything together in a big plan, in order to put the strongest messages up front.
Yet Friedman says the Dems' message is all wrong because ... they're focused too much on the carbon cap. "[O]ur energy policy should be focused around ‘American renewal,' not mitigating climate change," he says.
Who's focusing on the carbon cap here? Whose calling it the "center" of the Democrats' plan? Friedman is! Did he even read the thing?
I have read the following sentence probably 50 times, and I cannot make one tiny lick of sense out of it:
Since the opponents of cap-and-trade are going to pillory it as a tax anyway, why not go for the real thing — a simple, transparent, economy-wide carbon tax?
David Roberts is a staff writer at Grist.