It may well shift the overall debate, away from the definitively answered “is global warming happening?” to “what do we do about it?”
Crafty Newt Gingrich downplayed, but did not renounce, his global warming denial arguments (Kerry helpfully reminded us that Newt recently said there was no evidence of global warming, just “cultural anthropology,” properly calling into question Newt’s sincerity.)
But Newt clearly realizes the conservative movement can’t continue being perceived as the Flat Earth Society, and in turn, sought to move the debate towards the question of our government’s role.
He also recognized that an anti-government approach would be understood as insufficient for the challenge we face.
So he sought to turn the tables, claiming he supports a “real solution” that is “radically bigger and more complex than the current proposals.”
Yet he essentially only proposed a series of tax credits for cleaner energy.
Tax credits are certainly part of the solution, but by themselves are not enough – and they’re a far cry from “radically bigger and more complex”.
Newt also derided a firm cap on carbon emissions as a “bureaucracy and litigation” strategy. Kerry quickly rejected the false frame, noting that the same claims were lobbed at sulfur dioxide caps, and were proven wrong.
Kerry rightly noted that without our government to “set a standard,” and put a price on carbon pollution, we won’t get the job done:
The major CEOs … say they need the cap set, in order to give the marketplace the certitude and the incentive, for people to put the money in, and have a long-term capital investment that’s worthwhile.
At one point, Newt argued that it has been hard for conservatives to be environmentalists because of fears it would lead to “bigger government and higher taxes.” But that seems to be a bit of projection on his part.
His focus on giant tax credits, presumably with no revenue offsets, would continue the conservative “starve the government” project, and undermine our government’s ability to respond to the people’s will.
No question, it is astute of Newt to recognize that a fight over the role of government is relatively better for conservatives than a fight over established science.
Thanks to his stature among conservatives, their movement may follow his lead. (Though the National Review appears unimpressed with Newt’s performance.)
But as Kerry did, we can take that fight head on and win.
If we do, we’ll be in an even stronger position to enact the legislation needed to solve the climate crisis.
UPDATE: Other blogger takes on the debate from Blue Climate, Think Progress and Gristmill