Not to be overlooked amid the gale of reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon emission proposal is the EPA's gall, its effrontery, its smug tone of We're-the-government-and-don't-you-forget-it. Putin could take lessons from this gang.
The signal point, to be sure, is the thumbprint of Barack Obama on the EPA's plan to reduce -- in theory -- the economy's carbon footprint. EPA wants by 2030 a 30 percent cut in emissions compared with 2005. A plan to tackle the perceived problem failed in 2010 in a Senate heavily controlled by Democrats. OK, says Obama, his term as president winding down, I'll do it myself, through executive authority. Listen up -- I'm talking! The EPA, which he controls, sure did listen.
Upon the nation descends a set of proposals the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says would, if implemented, suppress average annual Gross Domestic Product by $51 billion, lowering employment growth by an annual average of 224,000 jobs through 2030. Just what America lusts for right now -- a big jump in living costs, to be spread among workers fortunate enough to have jobs.
You're wondering: Game over? Not by any means. The EPA proposal, however the media may depict it, is just that -- a draft rule put forth for a year's worth of public comment, and after that a raft of lawsuits. The latter will challenge not so much the EPA's common sense as the President's right to use executive authority as if he were, well, Vladimir Putin, informing the great unwashed how a disputed goal is to be attained.
The right to rule by decree -- do this because I say so -- is familiar. It's quick, decisive, doubt-trumping. No wonder rulers in all ages love it. The only problem from Obama's standpoint is that he wasn't elected to rule; he was chosen to govern in collaboration with two other branches of government, the legislative and the executive. A claim to the exercise of power -- Obama's new specialty, at a political moment he finds unfruitful -- is not the same as a constitutional right to the exercise of that power.
Arguments as to the need to sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels, coal in particular, cannot be won by assertion -- least of all when assertions as to the reality of climate change are heavily disputed. Obama, contemplating his presidential legacy, we are told, thinks to close down the discussion through action: me against all you guys who can't issue executive orders. This is not how things are done, or rather, not how they are meant to be done, where "consent of the governed" is more than a phrase of convenience.
So. Obama is vexed by Congress' unwillingness to get on the same page, climatologically speaking, that he is on? What does that say about his powers of persuasion -- or his ability to manage events, including elections, in such a way as to dominate the differently minded? Democracy provides the means of conversion -- namely, free speech and discussion. You make the best case you can; you show up your adversaries' case; you win elections. Then you move.
To move too fast -- without convincing, without bringing around majorities to your viewpoint -- is to undermine the process of consent that confers legitimacy on even the highly contested things that democracies do. Did Obama learn nothing in consequence of the bare-knuckle, semi-mendacious ("If you like your doctor ... ") process by which he and his congressional coterie "reformed" health care? Seemingly not. For whatever combination of philosophical or political motives, he wishes now to cram his vision of climate change down the country's throat.
Even now, many aren't taking it. We may count on oceans of negative comment as to the Obama-EPA plan for curbing emissions. We may count on lawsuits. We may count on -- just as disturbingly -- divisions deeper even than now in the social-political-cultural fabric, less the result of dispute over the science of climate change than of Obama's attempts to override all opinions, to have his way at all costs. The size, the extent of those costs, should daunt us already.