Obama Derangement Syndrome

According to Stephen Suh, the Obama campaign’s statement that the Clinton presidency was bad, electorally speaking, for Congressional Democrats means that he “ran away from being a Democrat”, just like, um, Al Gore. This is because, Suh explains, being a Democrat is synonymous with not just liking the Clintons, but believing them above reproach or criticism, and Gore, by choosing Joe Lieberman, and Obama, by having the sheer chutzpah to criticize the central argument (“heh, the ’90s were good!”) of the candidate he’s running against, are thus not real Democrats. Somehow this is also Bob Shrum’s fault. If you think I’m making any of this up, just read the post. He says all that. It’s the most crazily incoherent thing I’ve read in weeks.

10 thoughts on “Obama Derangement Syndrome

  1. I don’t think that I can be accused of ODS, especially now that I have voted for the guy. But let me quote the opening paragraph of a story in the New York Times:
    Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.
    This is no surprise to me at all: The biofuel solution is a mirage of poor environmental accounting. Only the particular accounting error addressed in these recent studies — denatured land — is new.
    Nonetheless, every serious presidential candidate is an alcoholic on the topic of energy sources, including in particular Obama. The link between biofuels and bad accounting has been documented before, but American politicians have yet to listen. (European governments have already started to shrink back.) I can believe that Obama is unusually wise and intelligent among Presidential candidates, but is he smart enough to let go of ethanol?

  2. I’m totally with you on that. The importance of Iowa in the primary structure is a perverse incentive for alcoholism; Obama, in particular, represents Illinois, a corn and coal state, which only makes matters worse for him. Still, I think his unabashed support of nuclear gives him an edge over Clinton on energy policy. I have my doubts over whether wind and geothermal can scale, whereas France has proved that nuclear can.

  3. It’s clear enough how much wind, geothermal, and nuclear power can scale relative to the world’s current energy needs. Each form of electricity has a cost-scale curve to express the diminishing returns of vast expansion. (And another curve maybe to express economy of scale.) Geothermal runs up against a wall at around the scale that wind has already been deployed. The cost-scale curve for wind power is much rounder. Wind can scale quite a bit with only moderate compromises in wind quality and similar; and the economy of scale of building the turbines has not maxed out either. But it’s true that it would be difficult for us to get most of our electricity from wind.
    It’s clear with or without the example of France that the theoretical capacity of nuclear power is vast, especially breeder reactors. But France does show that nuclear power is politically feasible, in principle.
    Meanwhile the sooner that Washington can abstain from ethanol, the better. It is somewhat beside the point in any case, because switching away from oil is far more expensive per unit of carbon than switching away from coal. You could price coal out of the electricity market entirely with a carbon tax that would only moderately affect the price of gasoline. We can suppose that the world will burn its full oil endowment in the next century, i.e. that oil consumption is unstoppable, and that coal will be the only remaining part of the dispute.

  4. My understanding comes from this article, and it is that cap-and-trade is anything but economically equivalent to carbon taxes. As best I unerstand it, this is a case of economics vs politics: the economists want taxes while the politicians want cap-and-trade. The environmentalists also have an ideological argument that cap-and-trade is better, but that doesn’t impress me at all.
    My philosophy in general is to start with economics truths, ideals, and goals, and then turn to what is politically realistic. I understand that idealism without political realism is at best moot and at worst disingenuous. But people should not sweep wisdom and facts off the table with the argument that they are politically infeasible.

  5. I am not expert in this matter. The question is not the direction of the incentives, but rather their “efficiency” — how much they move behavior away from generating greenhouse gases for a given amount of economic drag. The article in the Times makes no distinction between grant-and-trade credits and auctioned credits and might only mean the former. And I have to admit that I am just going on the advice of other in concluding that carbon taxes are economically better.
    So I should ask and find out.

  6. Again, I don’t really understand the fine points of these issues, but I Googled around some to see what people think about cap-and-auction vs carbon taxes. Some of the experts (or maybe pundits who call themselves experts) indeed say that cap-and-auction is similar to carbon taxes. But my suspicion is that they are so similar, in fact, that a pure auction would remove much or all of the political appeal of cap-and-trade. Congress will be sorely tempted to backslide and hand out permits before the auction begins.
    On the other hand, some of the endorsement of carbon taxes is also disingenuous. Some of it comes from people who condemn taxation as theft and global warming as fraud, and find it convenient to tie them together.
    If we could imagine an ideal auction with no handouts vs an ideal tax, then maybe the biggest difference is that one provides more emission stability while the other provides more price stability. In these ideal scenarios, I don’t see why year-of-year emission stability is all that important, since the atmospheric life of carbon is on the order of a century. But year-over-year price stability is economically important.
    One political side to this is clear. If you have a fixed carbon tax that trends to being too low after a few years, it will be difficult to drag Congress back to the issue to change the tax rate. So carbon taxes would only look responsible if there were an independent tax body to change the tax rates from time to time.

  7. I think the fact that all three major Democratic candidates (Edwards, Clinton, Obama) have proposed an 100% auctioned carbon tax says something about its political viability. It could still be derailed, but I think it’d appeal to enough Republican moderates to pass a Senate filibuster (I think it could pass the House today) and get signed by a Democratic president. Of course, McCain is a formidable candidate, but still. I think you assume that the presentation (auctioned cap™ vs. carbon tax) won’t affect public perception. I don’t think the public, or even Congress, is that substance-focused.

  8. It’s not that I think that style doesn’t matter and only substance does. It’s that they both matter. The Democratic candidates are free to pretend that there is no bitter pill to swallow from carbon mitigation. You bet your boots that there is. Coal money has already poured into the pockets of all three of these people, as well as into both sides of Congress. I would be very surprised if they put in a cap-and-auction without “temporary” grants that stretch out to the horizon. Either that or the cap will be sky-high, or there will be a lot of exemptions.
    On that note, here is an interesting remark from Obama in a debate:
    Under a cap-and-trade, there will be a cost. Plants are going to have to retrofit their equipment. And that’s going to cost money, and they will pass it onto consumers.
    He does admit that there is a pill to swallow, but not one that is all that bitter. “Plants will have to retrofit their equipment” isn’t the half of it. He seems to refer to carbon sequestration with this remark, but that is yet another untested proposal. If they had a serious cap or tax, it would gut the coal industry and replace it with something else. That would either be nuclear power or energy conservation, with assistance from wind or possibly solar thermal.
    There won’t be any magic of the marketplace with auctions or taxes. There will be a marketplace, but no magic.

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