Deconstructing Palin's op-ed
Sarah Palin “wrote” an op-ed in today’s Washington Post decrying the Waxman-Markey energy bill passed last month by the House. As can be expected from the political minds of the right–the people who brought you Iraq’s WMD and the Saddam-al Qaeda link–the article is full of lies, half-truths, misleading statements, canards, red herrings and other rhetorical tricks. Let’s take them apart piece by piece, shall we?
First off, let’s be perfectly clear about what the appearance of this piece in the most-read print publication of the political class means: Sarah Palin is not going to be merely a talk-show host. The op-ed is the opening salvo in her run for the 2012 Republican nomination for president.
As anyone who saw her resignation speech would certainly attest, the article was clearly not written by Palin herself, but by some handler. This is no big surprise in itself–we recently learned that her speech at the Republican convention last year was composed before the McCain campaign had decided on a nominee, and in truth officeholders rarely do their own stunts–but considering the last time we had an empty suit in the White House we got the shadow presidency of Darth Vader, and all the illegality that came with it, it’s worth noting.
On to the article:
Palin begins by stating the threats to our economy, which non-partisan studies have shown is largely the result of policies put in place by a Republican president. She refers to a “recovery [that] won’t bring jobs”; the last time that happened was in 2002-3 — the recovery overseen by the last Republican president. So in her very first paragraph, she has an untruth by omission. We can see where this is going.
Palin next plays to her base by dissing the “national media” with its “personality-driven political gossip.” I’m not going to defend much of what cable news fills its day with but I will note that right-wing media pundits over the last decade and a half have lifted personality-driven political gossip to a despicable art form. See: Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Chelsea Clinton when she was a child, among other things. So, graf 2: pot-kettle-black.
Paragraph 3 is the thesis statement:
President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan…is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.
This, along with the rest of the article, disregards the threats to our economy and permanent damage, economic and otherwise, from a business-as-usual approach to global warming, which is what failing to pass the legislation would mean. If New Hampshire has the climate of North Carolina–likely under business-as-usual according to experts [PDF, p. 24]–you can imagine what the effect on the economy of the entire eastern seaboard will be. No more maple syrup, to begin with, or probably even corn.
Moreover, the second sentence ignores the fact that the legislation doesn’t take effect until 2012, by which time most economists agree the recovery will be well underway–another untruth by omission. It also ignores the opinions of many economists, including that of a Nobel-prizewinner–who, call me crazy, I think probably knows more about the subject than Palin–that the bill will in fact be a boon to the economy as it will spur the development of new industries.
Next Palin draws on history and her home state as examples of why the plan is dangerous:
American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy. Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security.
The first sentence is a statement about the past. It therefore does not apply. As my mutual funds prospectus likes to say, past performance is not an indicator of future results: The era of abundant, affordable energy will soon be over, according to the US Energy Information Agency, which recently revised downward its estimate of global oil supply 20 years hence. The second sentence is a statement about one small (population-wise) corner of the U.S. which has lots of oil and gas; it therefore is not applicable to the rest of the country. So Palin’s argument is founded on two irrelevant statements.
The citation of Alaska as an example in favor of her argument, if it can be called that, also omits the dangers caused by global warming to Palin’s home state that can already be seen, beginning with the beetles killing trees and making forests there more susceptible to devastating fires.
Palin then implies that the bill will cause energy to become more scarce and expensive. That is happening anyway, as anyone who’s been buying gasoline or paying an electric or heating bill over the last 5 years can tell you, and will continue if the aforementioned EIA estimate comes close to being correct.
Cap-and-trade will in fact make polluting more expensive, thereby making clean energy cheaper and more abundant–the opposite of what Palin maintains.
The piece mentions a $4.2bn provision “accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector.” This is presumably a referral to the old-energy sector, which disregards job creation the bill will spur in the new-energy sector.
Then a bunch of flat-out lies and nonsensical statements about dangerously-rising costs and declining incomes:
“…more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business…the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices.”
Um, if grocery prices go up wouldn’t farmers’ incomes go up?
Plus, the most comprehensive report on the issue to date [PDF]–endorsed by the Bush administration–says net effect on GDP will be so low as to make Palin’s claim about the cost of doing business laughable:
In 2050, global average macro-economic costs for mitigation towards stabilisation…corresponds to slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.
A tenth of a penny per dollar. That’s the catastrophic increase Palin claims.
The next falsehood is on the subject of rising energy prices on “those already struggling to make ends meet.” This is the first time since maybe the 1970’s I’ve seen a Republican indicate by advocacy of policy s/he gives a damn about poor people, and it also happens to be wrong: as the Washington Post itself reported (by the way, why are they publishing this dreck from a person they called a liar on climate change just ten months ago?):
The CBO said [in June] that the poorest 20 percent of American households would actually receive a $40 benefit in 2020 from the legislation.
That’s at least 3 flat-out lies and we’re barely 400 words into it! If Palin is so concerned about “those already struggling to make ends meet,” she might be interested to know that manual laborers are likely to be most adversely affected by rising temperatures, resulting in a drop in productivity and a corresponding reduction in economic output (the thing Republicans seem to prize above all else), according to Oxfam.
Palin then proposes some already-discredited alternatives: we should “responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil.” How can that be done when scientists have firmly established the catastrophic and permanent impacts of burning these so-called resources?
Her ghostwriter here calls natural gas “clean.” This is the most egregiously misleading statement in the piece. We are talking about greenhouse gasses, right? The EIA again:
burning natural gas produces carbon dioxide which is a very important greenhouse gas.
The nerve! Obviously lying, denial and obfuscation is the only strategy opponents of the bill have.
Palin says we can “safely” access oil in ANWR. Safely for whom? The animals whose migration will be disrupted by transporting the oil out of ANWR? The billions who face disease and starvation from continued burning of fossil fuels? Calling additional drilling for oil safe in any context is absurd.
She then advocates burning more coal, oil and natural gas, which is what got us into this problem in the first place. She claims coal is getting cleaner, which only happened because of requirements imposed on coal-fired power plants over the zealous objections of coal producers their Republican handmaidens’ in Congress. And still, there’s a limit: Sequestration is unproven. Nuclear, by the way, costs billions and takes decades; when the alternative is saving billions almost immediately this doesn’t seem like much of a choice. And the two together still won’t be enough to reduce emissions to the degree necessary to stave off catastrophic warming.
Finally there’s this bizarre rhetorical question:
Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia?
China is at this moment embarking on a massive, massively subsidized project to dominate the world’s clean-energy industry, the exponential scaling-up of which governments, corporations, institutions and economists around the globe regard as inevitable, and soon. Failing to pass cap-and-trade would mean no incentive to develop the renewable industry here in the US; making emitting expensive, by contrast, will spur growth in alternatives. So, actually, turning to renewables is the way to control rather than outsource. It’s really very basic.
Since ignoring, distorting and misrepresenting the facts is the only way to deny (from a rightist’s perspective) the sense of passing the bill, I suppose we ought to expect as much from opponents. Actually the piece doesn’t even merit a response, let alone one of this length, except that it will be no doubt cited chapter-and-verse by those who don’t understand cap-and-trade or are so partisan they’re prepared to be convinced by any argument, no matter how absurd and untruthful.
So, people, click the links and get the truth. Palin is wrong and a liar. Also a quitter! Terrific qualifications for a candidate to lead your party.
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