Swiftboating climate change and Lincoln-Douglas

(… since I don’t want to further flirt with Expedia-related whining)

It’s been strange these last few days to see the counter-attack on Al Gore and the “Inconvenient Truth” documentary that’s coming out. There are paid press-releases, unintentionally hilarious commercials, and all kinds of good stuff.

I mean, really, what do we know? Global temperatures are up. This goes along with a massive change in how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane we’re putting into the atmosphere (and there are some other things, like jet contrails and stuff, but ignore that for a second). The overwhelming consensus (right or wrong) is that pollution’s changing the earth’s climate. The rational opposition argues that we don’t really know, and there’s no point to doing anything if it’s all the sun’s increased output or whatever (the increase in diet soda consumption since the invention of Tab, it doesn’t matter).

But to me, if you’re looking at this like a patient, say, and they’re about to experience kidney failure because of many factors, some of which you definately control, you don’t walk away from treatment because you don’t potentially control them all.

Especially since, and I’m digressing, a great deal of pollution is caused by waste. Like incandescent lightbulbs compared to the new flourescents — they’re huge energy hogs, for no real point. Poor car standards, and so on. If we decided to make a huge push in the US to not pollute, not even for green reasons but because it’d help wean us off Mideast oil, the actual cost per-person wouldn’t be that great and we’d reap all kinds of great benefits (cleaner air = better health, even if you don’t think it’ll help global warming).

Anyway. The point’s that what frustrates me about this kind of debate isn’t that there are people going after Al Gore using somewhat spurious attacks because they’re being paid to, but that I feel like as a country, there are a million really good arguments, from climate change to improving our health to improving our national security, to come up with a better way, and this kind of crap-throwing contest keeps everyone from realizing that probably 75% of us could agree on good things to do and start there.

What’s interesting is that while this kind of all-fronts media blitz is a relatively new tactic, the whole thing didn’t get invented by Karl Rove a couple years ago. The old days of politics are frequently held up as a shining example of how great things used to be, when politicians would debate each other seriously and whatnot.

That’s not what happened, though. If you go back to the Lincoln-Douglas campaigns, even, there are all kinds of spurious charges made against the other person, often based on misrepresentations of what their opponent said, conspiracy claims are thrown about, and they’re supported by an active political press on both sides eager to attack the other and support their own guy (“Here’s what our guy said…. and what the other guy said isn’t important.”). Lincoln argued in favor of a middle solution against Douglas, arguing that slavery should be contained, and was charged with being a radical abolitionist. Douglas was charged with participating in a conspiracy to turn the nation all-slave (which, in fairness, he wasn’t).

I’m sure that had Al Gore toured the country in 1854 giving speeches at any lyceum that would let him on stage, the political parties of the time would have carefully watched him, poked at him with some questions, and then after much back-room discussion, taken strong positions on him and started slinging attacks of the time.

This is both disheartening, in that we haven’t come far, and hopeful, in that despite the horror and chaos of political life, things get done, and progress gets made.