Cap and Fade

| Tue Nov. 4, 2008 11:10 AM EST

CAP AND FADE....Matt Yglesias on media misconduct:

I don't, for example, think I ever saw a television network or mass-media publication provide a cogent explanation of the differences between Barack Obama's climate change proposal and John McCain's climate change proposal even though the proposals contained some important differences. I have no idea whether this was attributable to "bias" or even how I would know. Nor am I sure which candidate would benefit from exploring this question. I am, however, sure that I've several times seen their plans described as being the same on the grounds that they're both "cap and trade" plans. That's false. Does the habit of saying it reflect bias? And bias toward whom?

The biggest difference between the two cap-and-trade plans, of course, is that Obama seems to actually believe in his proposal whereas McCain pretty plainly doesn't. For him, it's just window dressing that would almost certainly have been forgotten as soon as he got in office.

But how do you get that across? I'm pretty sure I'm right about this, but I certainly can't prove it. And any straight news reporters who took my line would (rightfully) be accused of massive bias. They could work around this by quoting other people on McCain's priorities and making clear that the GOP base hates cap-and-trade and would fight it, and then hoping that readers got the point. But maybe readers would and maybe they wouldn't. And if they didn't, the story would be fundamentally flawed.

But there's also another problem: on policy issues, the media tends to follow the campaigns. And neither campaign talked about cap-and-trade much. In McCain's case, I assume it's because Republicans hate cap-and-trade and he really didn't want to remind them that he supports it. In Obama's case, I assume it's because cap-and-trade would raise the price of energy and that's not exactly a winning campaign plank during a summer in which gasoline prices broke four bucks. So for different reasons they both kept quiet about it, and since they weren't attacking each other over cap-and-trade, the media ignored it too.

Which is kinda too bad because it had all the elements of an epic battle. It really is true that Obama's version of cap-and-trade amounts to a tax increase, and that would have been an issue right in McCain's share-the-wealth-tax-raising-socialist wheelhouse. Conversely, McCain's version of cap-and-trade really would have provided enormous windfall profits to coal plants and other carbon emitters (explanation here), and that would been right in Obama's fat-cat-more-of-the-same wheelhouse. It could have been a great fight.

Instead we got Joe the Plumber and Obama the terrorist lover. Oh well. We'll do better next time, right?

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