Rule #1 for Climate Discourse?

A reader of James Fallows has a suggestion to better focus the national discussion of the moment that is equally relevant to the climate change debate:

I would love to see a list of common sense rules (similar to Michael Pollan’s food rules) that serve as good reminders of civil discourse. What would you like to see on such a list? My first one, for example: “Never speak with the insinuation that your opponents do not have the best interest of Americans at heart.”

If only Joe Romm and Anthony Watts, two of the most popular climate bloggers that happen to occupy opposite ends of the climate spectrum, would take that advice to heart. For the record, I do believe that both of these men have the best interest of Americans at heart.

On a somewhat related note, via Andrew Sullivan, Fallows colleague at The Atlantic, I was made aware of this interesting post that suggests “arguments about climate change” provide

one useful way to think about the relationship between violent rhetoric and violent action.

The climate change example discussed by the blogger “Henry” relates not to civil dialogue but to the causal connection often invoked for random weather and disaster events. He writes:

…it is usually going to be next to impossible to tell whether any given event is ’caused’ by climate change…Testing arguments about climate change involves multiple data points and the usual problems of statistical inference etc. Similarly, it is probably a bad idea to attribute any particular violent action to an overall climate of violent rhetoric without some strong evidence of a direct causal relationship.

24 Responses to “Rule #1 for Climate Discourse?”

  1. kim says:

    Here’s Kanjorski, now a former Democratic representative, last fall, speaking of Rick Scott, a candidate for Florida governor:  ‘Put him against the wall and shoot him’.
    Where’s Kanjorski today?  On the pages of the New York Times calling for restraint in political rhetoric.
    There’s madness loose in the land, and it isn’t the right’s rhetoric.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    kim, your cognitive filter is impressive.

  3. kim says:

    Heh, doesn’t hold a candle to yours.

  4. kdk33 says:

    Pot.  Kettle.  Black.

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    Ah, kim, but I can concede that the left is also guilty of irresponsible and demagogic rhetoric. You don’t see (or concede) that this even exists on the Right.

    What I’ve been saying (without making a causal connection to the Tucson events) is that in a contest of who spouts more angry, hate-filled talk, the the Right’s blowhards (Beck, Limbaugh, et al) leave the Left in the dust.

    It’s not even a contest, notwithstanding the examples you and Malkin point to.

  6. kim says:

    Ah, your filter in action.  And your strawmen.  I see and concede that there is inflammatory rhetoric on the right.  I’m telling you it is worse on the left.
    Ask anyone.  Or does no one you know think that way?

  7. kim says:

    Here’s Krugman yesterday: ‘It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be ‘armed and dangerous’ without being ostracized..’
    Today, Kanjorski’s ostracized on to the pages of the ‘Paper of Record’
    Yep, cognitive filters, madness, hypocrisy.  You name it.

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Hmm (#6), sounds like Jeff Id syndrome to me: a leftist hiding under every bed, lurking in every closet, plotting to take over the world.

    Or in Jeff’s words from that post:

    “We have to get these corrupt liberals out of office asap.  This is as evil as anything any government can do…It’s bad enough that our extremist in chief doesn’t need to answer difficult questions and is surrounded by friendly leftists…There is going to be a revolt soon, we are NOT Russia yet but there is a reason that half of Obama’s appointments have been self proclaimed Marxists at one point or another.”

  9. Sashka says:

    I think James’ suggestion is good but very insufficient. With the characteristic modesty, I’ll note that my proposals a couple of days ago were radically better. To restate briefly: stop lying and don’t pretend being superior to the opponent.

  10. kim says:

    #8.  That’s sad, Keith.  Address the hypocrisy.

  11. Keith Kloor says:

    I’ve addressed you. We’re way past the point of diminishing returns in this exchange between you and I, so we’ll leave it there and see if the thread can take a different turn.

  12. Tom Fuller says:

    As someone who likes both of you (KK & K), I hope so too, as that is the point Fallows is trying to make.

    Jeff Id is a really, really good guy who is really, really wrong about what liberals want and are trying to do. (Although there are some 68’ers who could fit his description–especially in France…). There are a lot (really too many to name) of liberals who are really decent people who are really, really wrong about what conservatives want and are trying to do. These are long term and long-held observations with nothing to do with Tucson or cross-hairs.

    Again, a lot of it is down to messaging strategies and the successful solution of huge problems that used to make it easy to take sides. The problems we’re fighting over now are so much smaller in scope that the only way to differentiate your team from the other is to demonize them.

    We have Social Security! We have health care–and it is being reformed! We have fewer wars than ever! We have longer lives, more food, women’s rights! But we can’t just sit around shouting Hooray, so we have to call the other guys mushroom snorting goats, or something like that. Otherwise the terrorists win.

  13. Dean says:

    Rule: Ignore those who (you think) deserve to be ignored.
    This rule is for blogs but doesn’t work so well in politics because people you wish you could ignore may have real power.
    “For the record, I do believe that both of these men have the best interest of Americans at heart.”
    I don’t and I ignore the one that I think doesn’t.
    As to violence and the political spectrum, in the last year we had right wing extremists kill a guard at a museum in DC, fly a plane into a government building (a suicide murderer), etc. And of course there is Oklahoma City. When did a leftist extremist in the US do anything more than throw a brick through a window since, say, the 70’s or 80’s. Nor was the Weather Underground remotely comparable to Timothy McVeigh. There can be violence and violent rhetoric on both sides, but the scale is not remotely comparable. Right wing extremists own violence. Leftist extremists are vegetarian wimps by comparison. This is for the US and is not true elsewhere.

  14. Artifex says:


    Wow, the mental gymnastics required to be a progressive are pretty impressive.
    First take three nutcases: The first is convinced that grammar is out to get him, the second is a hard core 88 year old white extremist who seems in the grips of dementia to me, and the third had grievances against the IRS, George Bush and capitalism. You then spin this as the right wing. (Yup you’ve got me there. If you feel the health care payoffs must be repealed or that the current programs are more about paying off political allies than truly fixing things, you obviously must be a hard core white extremist who hates George Bush, the IRS and grammar)
    Then we downplay violence by the left. Bricks through moving bus windows sending elderly 2008 GOP convention attendees to the hospital or dropping sandbags into moving traffic done for honestly political reasons are not a big deal when the victims are Republicans. These are just small things. We can just stick our fingers in our ears and yell la-la-la and we don’t have to see these.
    Sorry, I think the SLA, and the Weather Underground are exactly equivalent to McVeigh. They were just a little less successful at their missions of violence. Bill Ayers can be connected to a group that bombs a San Francisco police depot and still be accepted in progressive company. Must be OK because he used a smaller bomb. At least on the right these guys are ostracized.
    Seriously, outside of McVeigh and his band of nuts has there been serious right wing violence since the civil right era ? Consider the last 10 riots that you can think of. Bet that none of the are for right wing causes. How about distruction of property ? Without even resorting to google, I can think of arson, distruction of scientific facilities and vandalism by organized left wing groups. On the right, I can come up with a few cases of vandilism of mosques by individuals, but little else. Yet, it is the right that is violent. Guess I just don’t see it.
    I do think all sides believe they have the best interest of the American people at heart. That’s not what scares me. People who are trying to pursue the best interests of the American people who are capable of rationalizing any action as long as it supports the cause scare me. Neither the French, Russian or Chinese revolutions started with anything other than a desire to change things for the better. The road to hell they say ….


  15. Keith Kloor says:

    Well, the mental gymnastics are pretty impressive for another conservative, as well, I suppose, who gives his take on Limbaugh’s take.

    Like I said on the other thread, there is a quantitative difference, but here with Limbaugh you see the qualitative difference too.

  16. Artifex says:

    I guess I just don’t get your point. When I read the link I see an idiot (Limbaugh) who seems to believe that he can read the minds of people he finds distasteful and attributes malice to them maybe either because he doesn’t have the mental wattage to see the possibility of an opposing view or more cynically because it plays to his base better. In general, I don’t think much of all such people.
    I guess I just don’t see the qualitative difference you are claiming. A Limbaugh attributing a false malicious viewpoint to an opponent seems to me little different than a Krugman, Olbermann or Maddow  attributing a false malicious viewpoint to an opponent.
    I honestly am willing to see the difference if you are actually able to make the point. Perhaps you can try translating from journalist to scientist/engineer. What is the set of rules and characteristics that make Limbaugh’s stupidity categorically different than Maddow’s, Olberman’s or Krugman’s ?
    Your point about Limbaugh being categorically different may be true, but you are going to have to do much better than provide a bunch of anecdotes and authority statements from other folks who agree with you. I am completely willing to acknowledge you may be seeing something I am not, but I would like to see the rule set you base your opinion on.
    On the other hand stating that the “right owns violence” strikes me as a viewpoint held like a crucifix to ward evil from a holy cause and utterly fails to stand up to any reasonable examination. It was this that drew my mental gymnastics comment.

  17. Keith Kloor says:


    At his blog, Stephen Budiansky has a challenge that you are welcome to take up with him, as his rejoinder says it better than I can:

    “I defy you to find a single example of an elected Democratic official condoning an actual murderous attack on a Federal employee (as Rep. Steve King did in saying he empathized with the kamikaze taxpayer who killed an IRS official in his suicide plane attack last year). I defy you to find an example of mainstream Republican leaders even criticizing much less denouncing as “despicable” the words of “” not some fringe group making a film or putting up a vulgar web posting “” but of Republican *elected officials* and *chosen party nominees* for high office who spoke with approval of violent anti-government action. I defy you to find a mainstream Republican official denouncing the despicable words of Limbaugh, Beck & Co. (The one who did immediately, cap in hand, appeared on Limbaugh’s show to recant his sin.)”

    I also point you again to Andrew Sullivan, who really nails it:

    “The Dish collects examples of extreme rhetoric on both sides, and the simple fact of the matter is that there’s far more on the right than left. More interesting is the theme on the right.”

    He goes on to provide examples from (with the exception of one) leading figures in the GOP and Fox News–none of them fringe characters.

    Sullivan writes (my emphasis):

    “To point this out is not partisan. I am not horrified by the rhetoric and love of violence on the far right because I have some attachment to the Democrats. I am horrified because it is horrifying, because for years now, this kind of thing has become commonplace at the very top of the conservative political apparatus, and because the invocation of violence in a political context is inherently corrosive of democratic values”

  18. Francis says:

    OK, as the official representative of the Left / Liberals / the Democratic Party, I hereby apologize for all past uses of violence and of the rhetoric of violence by my side against the Right.  I hereby commit to chastising anyone  from my side who may do so in the future.
    Yes, I have the perception that your side is worse.  Yes, I understand that your side has the perception that my side is worse.  Great.  Can we both agree to back off a little?
    We’ll continue to try to make the case that the global society does need to decarbonize, and we’ll accept that your disagreement doesn’t make you evil.  In return, can you agree at least to listen in good faith and accept that our beliefs about the importance of global warming doesn’t make us evil.

  19. Artifex says:

    Once again, your thinking is fuzzy. I see anecdotes and strong belief but little structure. If possible could you explain the structure to me ? Maybe our modes of thought are just too different ?
    Let’s look at your anecdotes shall we.
    First let’s look at the Budiansky. He takes King to task for empathizing with the guy that murdered the IRS official last year. He then spins this from empathizing to supporting. You do understand these are fundamentally different things, correct ? I can fully empathize with some addict who has had a tough life and still want him sent to jail when he robs that little old lady. We then take this misrepresentation (whether from ignorance or political purpose, I have no clue) and uses it to attack his political opponents … nice.
    I am not sure whether he is commenting on the Limbaugh piece you had me read earlier, but in that piece it struck me that Limbaugh was accusing the Democrats of supporting the violence to make political inroads (which seems untrue) . Is there a separate Limbaugh comment in which Limbaugh supports the killing of the Congresswoman or is this more ignorant/dishonest political misrepresentation by someone with an axe to grind ?
    Andrew Sullivan looks through a bunch of anecdotes and surprise, surprise finds that his biases are confirmed. Amazing really.
    So once again, do you have a set of rules or characteristics that support your viewpoint. Maybe this is just a fool errand and this is not the way that progressives think.
    So far I have:
    Steven Budiansky can misrepresent language to smear Republicans and no Republicans denounce words that Budiansky deems despicable (what word are still not clear to me) so Limbaugh is bad. Andrew Sullivan thinks he has seen more right wing speech supporting violence than left wing speech, so Limbaugh is bad.
    So far, this doesn’t seem to be a very persuasive argument. Perhaps a logical argument rather than a set of anecdotes ?

  20. Dean says:

    I didn’t say that the right owns violence, I said that right wing extremists own violence. I don’t think that your average garden-variety conservative is more violent than your average garden-variety liberal.
    And I will admit on reflection that “owns” goes a bit too far. But the Weather Underground never attempted anything remotely like McVeigh did, so I stand by my assertion that the scale is vastly different when comparing violence between the extremes on each side.

  21. Brandon Shollenberger says:

    A few years ago, during an broadcast interview with Bill Maher, John Kerry said, “I could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania and killed the real bird with one stone.”
    A current Democratic senator who was nominated for president by the Democratic party joked about killing the president of his country.  Rhetoric says what?

  22. Artifex says:

    This one is too amusing not to follow up on. Keith shows Stephen Budiansky as saying:

    I defy you to find a single example of an elected Democratic official condoning an actual murderous attack on a Federal employee (as Rep. Steve King did in saying he empathized with the kamikaze taxpayer who killed an IRS official in his suicide plane attack last year)

    I see the following from Wiki:

    Noted libertarian socialist American intellectual Noam Chomsky cited Joe Stack’s suicide letter as indicative of some of the public sentiment in the U.S., stated that several of Stack’s assertions are accurate or based on real grievances

    So I take it then that by Stephan’s logic, Noam Chomsky supports the violent action that killed the IRS agent. He is correct that fortunately for all of us Chomsky is not an elected Democratic official. He must be a pretty vicious right wing nut.

  23. JeffN says:

    Wow. You didn’t really- seriously – quote Andrew Sullivan moralizing about civility, did you? The Andrew Sullivan who attacks Sarah Palin and her family every single day and revels in the bizarre conspiracy theory that she isn’t even the mother of her children? That Andrew Sullivan? This is the guy we’re to learn about civility from? What’s next- a primer on non-violent metaphors from the 10:10 video department?

  24. Steven Sullivan says:

    Anyone who thinks violent, paranoid rhetoric is coming as often and as consistently from powerful, influential sources on the Left as from the Right, is simply either deaf and blind, or stuck in some late-60s time warp.
    A simple example, JeffN:  Sarah Palin as not being Trig’s mom vs. ‘uncertainty’ that Obama is a citizen/non-Muslim.
    Which one has more play in the public discourse?  How high up the political and media power ladder does the expression of ‘doubt’ go in each case?

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