Saturday, April 07, 2007

Newt Gingrich, triangulation, the DLC and Framing Climate Change

This is going to be a VERY confusing post, but it answers the question of how human forcing of climate should be framed to create effective policy. Rather than build to a crescendo, Eli will state the obvious at the top:

  • The policy debate between us and our allies is about means.
  • The denialists want a debate about ends.
  • We must ally with those who see the dangers of climate change.
  • We must marginalize denialists, not those whose responses to and perceptions of the depth of danger differ.
  • The factual, scientific basis allows us to do all this.
There is a ferocious push back against Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Nicholas Stern and others who think that the world is in a dangerous situation because of all the greenhouse gases, principally CO2, that are being dumped into the atmosphere. Most discouraging is the joining in of those who in principle agree with Gore, Hansen, Stern and the Rabett, (using the other three as exemplars) but who differ on the way that these folk are speaking out. The joiners are attempting to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory for the sake of the middle, e.g. to appeal to some ill defined group, which is either the denialist herd (play nice now children) or, more commonly, those not paying attention. This is Niemoeller's fallacy.
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Bill Clinton fell for this fallacy with triangulation,
The term was first used by President of the United States Bill Clinton's chief political advisor Dick Morris as a way to describe his strategy for getting Clinton reelected in the 1996 presidential election. . . . to be "more Republican than the Republicans." . . . One of the most widely cited capstones of Clinton's triangulation strategy was when, in his 1996 State of the Union Address, Clinton declared that the "Era of Big Government is over."
The effect was that positions to Clinton's left were deligitimized as Newt Gingrich moved the Republicans even farther to the right. This made Clinton's middle the extreme left for the public, something the Republicans worked very hard to reinforce.

Clinton was in a box of his own making. Having condemned important parts of his own party, he could not say never mind and bring it back into play. The Democratic Party fell into disarray and the Republicans spent the next four years bear baiting. Clinton's 1996 victory was empty. The best he could do was to survive. A promising presidency was neutered. The US election of 2006 was a turning away from triangulation for many Democrats although not the Democratic Leadership Council. They enrage much of the rest of the party, not because of their policies but by their continual criticism of fellow party members and refusal to confront Republicans (see Joe Lieberman)

While many (see also third way and New Labour) say that the danger of triangulation is that it destroys the principles, Eli differs. The problem is that it moves the window in which the public discourse takes place away from your allies and towards your opponent's position. If someone on the center-left triangulates, the net effect is to legitimize the right and deligitimize the left.

The same thing is happening today with respect to climate policy, so the Rabett says to the middlers, be careful of what you write and how you write it.

If you are going to differ on the rate of sea level rise with Al Gore, start by saying, that there is a very serious problem which could have nasty effects within the next century and worse after. Lay out the facts why you think he should have put some time limits on the ultimate rise, discuss why the actual timing is very uncertain, but very dangerous and do not fail to point out that Inhofe is crackers.


Anonymous said...

The "middlers" or the "muddlers"? -- or the "mid-muddlers"?

I would consider the latter part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

There is a whole extraneous layer (science policy "experts", communications "experts", journalists) that is unduly influencing the traditional science/public interface.

These people have always been there, of course, but they are clearly flexing their muscles and attempting to exert some control over the debate (as "Honest Brokers" for example).

But they are most certainly not simply unbiased observers -- as they would have us all believ).

In fact, one could make a pretty good argument that they have acted as facilitators for the Bush disinformation campaign over the past few years (sometimes unwittingly, other times not).

Anonymous said...

It looks like the IPCC is going to get added to the alarmist camp, based on theirlatest report(if they have not already been)

The title to the article says it all:

"Earth faces a grim future if global warming isn't slowed, U.N. report says"

That says "Mitigation is critical".

Of course, Roger Pielke's response to the report is predictable: he claims that the IPCC is de-emphasizing the importance of adaptation and placing an over-emphasis on mitigation, presenting the latter in an overly positive light.

Michael Tobis said...

What he said.

I agree completely on every point in this posting.

Most people try to be fair, and presume the truth lies somewhere between perceived extremes.

When the debate is between extremists and reasonable people, the public will end up half-extremist in an effort to be reasonable.

Gore made many mistakes in his campaign, but in my opinion by far his greatest failure was in refusing to debate Nader, listening to idiotic ideas from DLC consultant types, who ineffectively packaged Gore as something he isn't.

In the same way, by engaging Singer, but ignoring Lovelock, we misframe the debate for the public, allowing the center to be cast as the extreme.

The utter invisibility of other extremes besides the bizarre amalgam of religious orthodoxy and economic libertarianism that passes for "conservatism" these days is what enables spineless Broderism to continue spinning matters out of control.

Moving slowly in a consistent direction away from center is a better control system than moving rapidly in a consistent direction away from center, but not by much.

Anonymous said...

I would just point out that it was "framing" (spin by another name) that got us into the current predicament.

What gets us out is not going to be moving windows around and creating new ones, but instead exposing the false realities and outright lies that some have been pedling.

The critical thing is to expose the fact that some people have created "frames" (windows, whatever the hell you want to call them) that provide a view of a fanciful world of their own making that has nothing whatever to do with the actual world.

Dano said...

Well, I must say that the delusionists are no longer getting influential play in denying the science AGW. I mean now it's OK to shrug off their coo-coo bananas denialist views, to the point of ignoring them. Just a thought here, but I think Joe and Jane Sixpack see this now.

But this takes us to adaptation and mitigation, and the delusionist views are still getting play - look at the SwiftBoating of Gore, Hansen, Stern, IPCC, "scenarios" in scare quotes. Look at the editorial noise-machine cut-paste by Deroy Murdock in the RMN today (note the same rhetoric used over and over and over again).

Surely this recycling can be addressed by dismissing it so we can have a decent societal conversation.



Anonymous said...

I agree with Larry Moran's take on the framing issue:

"Truth may not be everything but it's so far ahead of whatever's in second place that it might as well be everything. Once you abandon truth you've lost."

This whole "framing" issue strikes me as some kind of a game -- the "Frame Game".

As a former science teacher myself, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of presenting science in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the public. I would bet that every scientist and science educator that I know subscribes to this as well.

But what Nisbet/Mooney are talking about seems to be more than that -- about winning political battles.

Science is not about that. science is value neutral.

I think the day that scientists start playing such political games is the day that they have lost.

Mark UK said...

The tactics are just like the creationists/ID people. Appeal to the fairness principle. blah blah blah..

It is simple. The science is clear. That is the only message that needs to be communicated. It is not a matter of a safe middle ground. It is a matter of the IPCC report stating what the science says and it is a matter of taking appropriate actions to mitigate and adapt.

Science does not work on the basis of fairness or middle ground.

Molnar said...

I think you got it right in every respect except your use of the word "crescendo": you meant build to a climax - the crescendo is the process of building.

Also, Niemoeller's fallacy is a bit problematic, since he wasn't actually unhappy about them coming for the commies and the jews.

But I'm with you on the strategy.

Anonymous said...

"Also, Niemoeller's fallacy is a bit problematic, since he wasn't actually unhappy about them coming for the commies and the jews."

Wasn't that his whole point?

Molnar said...

I took his point to be that we should defend those with whom we are basically sympathetic even if we don't agree entirely with their positions. Niemoeller had no use for jews or communists, so the analogy struck me as a bit off the mark. But just a bit. And we can imagine a Niemoeller-like person who wasn't a rabid anti-semite, which is probably what Eli was doing.

EliRabett said...

Eli quoted the version that did not include the Jews. Although less common it may be the original (see the Wikipedia) Certainly Niemoeller was an anti-Semite before WWII and quite conservative, but equally truly he had changed radically after the war. This is Easter.

Anonymous said...

I took his point to be that he did not speak out against something he despised (the Nazi policies) as long as it was not him -- and simply someone else, whom he either did not like or possibly had no opinion about.

In that regard, what he thought of the Jews is irrelevant. In fact, that's basic to the underlying theme of the poem.