« Towards a Better Globalization | Main | Universal Health Care and Innovation »

November 12, 2007

Policies and Politics

Joe Klein gets an interesting quote from Hillary Clinton on the political difference between her and Barack Obama's energy plans

Just before our interview, Clinton gave a speech launching her energy-independence proposal. It would drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by auctioning off permits to pollute and is similar to Obama's — but Obama has added a fillip of honesty by telling his audiences that the program might result in higher energy prices. I asked Clinton why she hadn't been similarly honest, and she immediately turned it around: Obama wanted to spend the proceeds of the pollution auction — perhaps as much as $50 billion — on alternative-energy research and development. "I have committed to putting money from that auction into programs to ... cushion the economic impact on working and poor families," she said. And then she added scornfully, "So if you want to go and get some debating point telling people this is going to cost you money, then I don't think you've thought through the policy as carefully as you could ... This is going to be a tough transition. It's got to be done politically. One of the ways to make it politically palatable is to rebut the Republican talking point that ... it's another huge tax increase on Americans. You know what? It isn't."

Now, I think it's an open question whether the mere act of making a policy something other than a giant tax increase will have any impact once the Republicans begin calling it a giant tax increase. But if you do believe that the substance of policies flows directly into the politics of policies, Clinton's argument here seems pretty convincing.

Indeed, similar thinking is on exhibit in her health care plan too, where protection of current insurance and expansion of choices were clearly the political arguments that guided much of the policy's development. In general, her domestic policies aren't very different than those of her competitors, but in the places where they diverge, they diverge in ways that make them a bit politically smarter, a bit more palatable to particular interest groups, a bit more fit for the argument that will inevitably arise. The variations aren't huge, but they do point to some very serious thinking in the campaign that integrates the need for bold legislation with the obstacles to its passage.

November 12, 2007 | Permalink


Very nice post Ezra.

Posted by: Armando | Nov 12, 2007 10:36:21 AM

Where is she getting this? This is what Obama's energy proposal actually says:

"Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development and deployment of clean energy, invest in energy efficiency improvements and address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition and helping lower-income Americans afford their energy bills by expanding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, expanding weatherization grants for low-income individuals to make their homes more energy efficient, and establishing a dedicated fund to assist low-income Americans afford higher electricity and energy bills"

As best I can tell, Clinton's proposal seems to put slightly less emphasis on cushioning the economic impact for low-income folks...

Posted by: brad plumer | Nov 12, 2007 10:39:49 AM

And so begins the process of time wherein left wing bloggers decide that all tactics they found disgusting and abhorrent by GWB become wholesome and perfectly acceptable when someone with a 'D' next to their name does it!

Posted by: soullite | Nov 12, 2007 10:51:40 AM

Brad, I think Ezra has made it perfectly clear at this point that he only really cares that Democrats win, and that people like him are taken care of. He only cares about helping working Americans when it makes him feel better about himself, and he's perfectly willing to throw them under the bus if it means importing new voters, granting the economic elite more 'free trade' deals, or getting a policy that helps him personally.

Posted by: soullite | Nov 12, 2007 10:54:22 AM

Yeah Brad, didn't you see where I said all that in my post?

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 12, 2007 10:56:21 AM

Interestingly Brad, I think you make BOTH Ezra and Clinton's point.

Why did not Obama EMPHASIZE that and avoid talking about "tax increases?"

He has the material to do it and yet he does not.

Why? As always, the question with Obama is why?

Posted by: Armando | Nov 12, 2007 11:03:57 AM

"And so begins the process of time wherein left wing bloggers decide that all tactics they found disgusting and abhorrent by GWB become wholesome and perfectly acceptable when someone with a 'D' next to their name does it!"

Sry, soullite, but I don't get it. What in Ezra's story made you think this?

Posted by: Gray | Nov 12, 2007 11:06:03 AM

...but she didn't deny that it would raise energy prices. How long is that 50 billion over? Would it be enough to augment people's home heating bills and fuel-ups until new technologies come online?

Posted by: verplanck colvin | Nov 12, 2007 11:12:29 AM

The flip-side to Ezra's points, which I quite accept, is that Hillary re-emphasises that she's the 'work within existing boundaries' candidate.

Which, given the radicalism of BushCo, has a political advantage ('this is what it takes to become law'), but a lot of political disadvantages ('think how more watered down it will get'). Plus, not visionary or aspirational in the slightest.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Nov 12, 2007 11:12:48 AM

Soullite's holier-than-thou schtick got old ages ago. No one in the world but soullite, it turns out, gives a fig for the plight of the less fortunate! Gawd.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 12, 2007 11:13:09 AM

Hilary's plan essentially uses the proceeds of higher energy costs to subsidize energy usage. This may work politically, but its antithetical to a major purpose for even having an energy police; i.e getting people to use less energy.

Posted by: Spike | Nov 12, 2007 11:38:57 AM

Interesting point Spike. But it presupposes less well off folks wasting energy and money as opposed to other types of energy users.

I think your point is LITERALLY true, but overall a red herring.

IT will have little effect on energy use by the persons subsidized and possibly a great effect on big users.

Posted by: Armando | Nov 12, 2007 11:44:05 AM

Armando, the problem with this discussion is that phrase "less well off folks." Care to define it? It'd be unfair of me to introduce a definition and then argue from it.

Posted by: Meh | Nov 12, 2007 12:01:03 PM

My concern is that if you increase overall energy costs by $50 billion, and then subsidize usage by $50 billion, its not going to decrease energy usage one whit. Instead, it will shift the energy usage away from rich people and toward people with lower incomes. That may be laudable from a social benefit standpoint, but, from an environmental standpoint, it really doesn't matter if that $50 billion worth of coal is being burned for the rich or for the poor.

Now, if we took that $50 billion, and instead of subsiding energy usage, we subsidized say, better insulation for people's houses - that would genuinely lead to lower energy usage. Obama's plan to use the money to subsidize alternative energy research has some merit in this regard. But if we tax energy to subsidize energy, we are just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Posted by: Spike | Nov 12, 2007 12:59:01 PM

Thanks Brad,

So it seems Hillary is knowingly or unknowingly distorting Obama's plan. Hopefully Ezra will edit his post to point this out.

Posted by: Jeff | Nov 12, 2007 1:05:30 PM

The obvious conclusion here is that she and her associates have learned from the 1993 health care debacle. I'm not a big HRC fan, but good for her on this one.

Posted by: beckya57 | Nov 12, 2007 1:13:05 PM

Soullite is probably referencing the fact that increasingly its clear , ie the planted questions story that's growing, that Clinton is engaging in similar tactics to the Bush campaign. Also including tactics such as using the values of the base to have them act against their interest such as by using gender politics. Advocating policies only to get their support or not answering questions at all. No tranparency at all. Her donor base scandals etc. BUT because it's a Democratic front runner these tactics are now acceptable because many of the A list bloggers do not want to be left out in the cold- or so the theory is growing if you have paid attention to several bloggers and their response thus far. On the policy front its the ignoring of historical context of clintonian politics, including triangulation which is pretty much what clinton does on most issues. For example calling out other Democrats without doing the same with Clinton, etc. Or as my friend put it- the fix is in.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 12, 2007 1:53:06 PM

I think I am starting to feel a little more optimistic about 2008 being catastrophically divisive to the Democratic Party. Let us all unite behind the candidate(s) in the summer, without regrets of rancor.

However, before comity, I would say that each of the three major candidates would bring their own particular political assets & liabilities to the legislative process if elected. Edwards might have coattails in the South, but I don't think those freshpersons would be the most liberal, secure, or reliable additions to progressive power. Obama might gain bipartisan support, but at an obvious cost. HRC might be the best at strategy & tactics, but frankly, she still looks a little arrogant.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 12, 2007 3:12:35 PM

Ezra attacks articles that criticize Hillary. Ezra attacks posts that praise Barack?

Ezra likes Hillary, Ezra likes Hillary... Ezra does not like Barack so much, Ezra does not like Barack so much.. he keeps writing the same things over and over and over.. what is the big difference between the two? yes - we know - they are both Democrats! Are they both the same character? Only because you share some goals does not mean getting there would be same... your thoughts on that Ezra? Who would united the country (and the world) more? Who would rather stop the polarizing?

Posted by: Hugo Pottisch | Nov 12, 2007 3:20:00 PM

Gray, Ezra Klein is lauding Hillary for constructing legislation purely for political consumption, with no real regard for what the best policy is. When politics drives policy and a Republican is in question, it's a terrible crime against the country. When Hillary does it, it's just clever marketing. Strangely, this only really seems to apply to Hillary. If other Democrats use 'Republican talking points' against her, they are roundly castigated by every blogger and commenter. However, Clinton's campaign, her supporters, and her allied bloggers can go around talking about 'Clinton Derangement Syndrome' and nobody utters a god damned peep about it.

Steve, perhaps if my comments offend you, you should skip over them. I would suggest that if you really care so much about a comment that wasn't even directed at you, that that says a whole lot more about you than me.

Posted by: soullite | Nov 12, 2007 3:34:38 PM

The reality is that any sort of energy tax - carbon, Btu, what have you - is inherently progressive - the better off you are, the more energy you use - but would still have a big impact on people at the bottom who already have trouble paying their energy bills. Someone renting an apt. in a 100 year old, uninsulated house can't do very much to reduce her heating costs (and an energy tax future should result in more efficient housing becoming relatively more expensive), even as they rise. So you subsidize her through LIHEAP, and no one feezes to death. But in the meantime, those with the means to do so build, buy, or retrofit more efficient housing. At some point, the increased efficiency in the broader market should creep down to the bottom, so that cheap used cars get 30 MPH and shipping systems get their costs back down.

One suggestion I recall reading back when Peak Oil was much-discussed a year or two back was to have a gas tax that comes with a generous rebate - essentially, everyone gets 10 gal./week tax-free (or whatever the details were). If you reduce your gas usage below that level, you get free money; if you keep driving your SUV, then you pay the tax.

Posted by: JRoth | Nov 12, 2007 3:44:56 PM

this same approach that soullite describes is how this site and other A listers have approached other policies clinton has announced. not on its merits alone but her acumen for manipulating the political process. ie, her plan for healthcare and the almost MSM way it was covered on teh blogs

Posted by: akaison | Nov 12, 2007 3:52:59 PM

Please. Enough with the "A-listers" conspiracy nonsense. Ezra and Yglesias are the two biggest reasons I'm against HRC. Just because they don't share your particular obsessions doesn't make them tools of The Man.

Oh, and it's not "triangulating" to take the most progressive policy proposals out there and tweak them to make them actually passable. The Clintons did not invent the phrase "art of the possible." Maybe you should read a little history dating before 1992.

Posted by: JRoth | Nov 12, 2007 4:35:54 PM

human behavior isn't a conspiracy. it's a reality of life. you can slap conspiracy on a simple observation about behavior all you want, and it still will not change the fact it was an observation about behavior rather than the strawman you construct to argument against. what i don't like is double standards of behaviors. thats not about democrats or republicans- thats about having principles.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 12, 2007 5:04:23 PM

Jroth, it's not a 'conspiracy', it's how things work. They are closing ranks on the person they see as most likely to win to prevent as much damage to her candidacy as possible. Your attempt to shut down debate by invoking 'conspiracy theorists' is pretty laughable. nobody is suggesting that Ezra, Matt, and Duncan Black dress up in robes and sacrifice goats. We're suggesting that they are behaving in a way entirely consistent with human nature, and that requires no such collusion.

Besides, it's hard to take someone who offers up a 'rebate' as a way to alleviate the suffering of lower income Americans. It'll be great for the middle class who can afford accountants or H&R block. For the vast majority of Americans who file the simplest tax forms they can, this money will never see their hands and you have to know that if you are in any way serious about discussing these issues from an class perspective.

Posted by: soullite | Nov 12, 2007 5:15:42 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.