Commentary

Bush Wins, Advised To Capitulate

A plurality of likely voters now say they disagree with Vice President Gore on what is clearly his innermost, core belief. As a result, Washington insiders have advised Bush to capitulate to Gore.

Last Earth Day, Gore re-released his book “Earth in the Balance,” which declares that fighting global warming should be the “central organizing principal for civilization,” and that the price of energy should be increased. Gore says he “wouldn’t change a thing” about the original (1993) edition.

In order to create the legal framework for his program of global salvation, he told ABC’s This Week that he would “build support” for the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which coerces dramatic reductions in energy use through higher prices, before submitting it to the Senate for ratification.

According to a recent Zogby/Reuters poll, so far he has failed. By a margin of 46 percent to 42 percent, people support Bush’s position over Gore’s. Specifically, in the second debate, Bush said, “I’ll tell you one thing I am not going to do. I’m not going to let the United States carry the burden for cleaning up the world’s air, like the Kyoto treaty would have done.”

Not only did Bush carry the day, it looks as if Kyoto causes heartburn for a lot of Democrats. Of people identifying themselves as Democrats, 68 percent agreed with Gore. That means one-third of the party faithful either agreed with Bush or had no opinion, while only 15 percent of Republicans favored Gore’s position.

Sensing defeat, Gore recently retreated from his “Earth in the Balance” position on energy taxes, which are the fastest (and most economically disruptive) way to discourage fuel use. In the second debate, he said “I’m not in favor of energy taxes.”

So, why hasn’t Bush belled Gore’s cat? Not only does Bush enjoy popular support, he has caught Gore in another clear misstatement. The answer is that the Bush campaign itself is conflicted about climate change. Tucked away in his energy policy white paper released last month is a statement about limiting carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse warming gas. That position potentially puts him to the left of Gore on global warming.

In many ways, Bush is handling environmental policy a lot like his father did. In 1992, President Bush went to Rio de Janeiro to sign the original U.N. global warming treaty, against the advice of many but riding a crest of popularity. Five months later he was beaten by Clinton and Gore, the latter of whom heckled him in Rio.

Why do Bushes do this? While Gore governs, campaigns, lives and breaths confrontation, Bushes make compromises and “bring people together.” They’re “kindler and gentler” and “compassionate.”

In Washington, the people you “bring together” are involved in Washington’s primary industry: government. And so when either Bush sought Washington advice on climate change, he ran into people who can always be depended on to recommend federal programs to “do something.” For global warming, this means placing some type of restriction on greenhouse gas emissions. “Nothing” is not an acceptable answer in governmentville.

There are neither term limits nor elections for lobbyists, and they will do anything to stay here. The food is good (they’re not paying), the wine is cheap (D.C. has the lowest liquor taxes around), and the power is even more intoxicating. Keeping those perks means defining anything as a problem, requiring a solution from the federal government.

Thus it was the electric utility lobby that encouraged Bush to include emissions restrictions in his environmental proposals. But the electric utility lobby will pursue its regulatory interests regardless of who is elected. With the prospect of a Bush victory, the lobby just made up a set of proposals, in order to have a reason for existence come inauguration time.

Do they care what voter opinion is? Look at the Zogby poll and decide for yourself. Have they rewarded Bush for his reluctance to go along with Kyoto? No, because they’d be out of a job. Instead, they advise Bush to capitulate on his opponent’s most heartfelt opinion, in spite of evidence that Bush articulates the most popular position. They fear that Bush might actually win and make them irrelevant.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.