Netroots Nation: Winning on Climate by Making Fun of People

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 22 2013 2:13 PM

Netroots Nation: Winning on Climate by Making Fun of People

SAN JOSE—"These people have to be ridiculed," said Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz. "They have to be run out of town rhetorically."

The freshman senator, appointed upon the death of Hawaii's statesman Dan Inouye, was talking about skeptics of climate change. The issue earned a Saturday morning panel at Netroots Nation, anchored by Rep. Henry Waxman, who had moved the 2009 cap and trade bill through the Democratic House only to 1) watch it whimper and die in the Senate and 2) watch many Democrats who'd backed it get attacked as "energy taxers" and lose.

Waxman and Schatz agreed that climate change legislation was a dead letter in the current Congress, because Republicans didn't fear it. How to change that? Ridicule. "When you make fun of people—here's an example," said Waxman. "In Indiana last year, a conservative candidate lost the Senate race because he said something stupid about rape." If denying climate change becomes as dangerous to talk about as abortion, voila, they can start tripping up the other side.

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They needed to try, because nothing else worked. It was good, said Waxman, that President Obama was giving a climate change speech next week (Tuesday) and announcing more executive actions. "He's not running for re-election," said Waxman, which meant that the president should wield more power. Simple public pressure hadn't been consistent enough to move people. "I appealed to Stephen Chu, who is very credible—he has a Nobel PrizeSen. Brian Schatzand asked him for support." The public support didn't come.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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