Gore Derangement Syndrome -
On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street
Journal's editors couldn't even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore's
name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people
they thought deserved the prize more.
And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize
should have been shared with "that well-known peace campaigner Osama
bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore's stance." You see, bin Laden
once said something about climate change - therefore, anyone who talks
about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.
What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?
Partly it's a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American
people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White
House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around
President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were,
I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of
illegitimacy from the Bush administration.
And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the
job - to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda's recruiters could
have hoped for - the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown
even more extreme.
The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view,
is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as
the "ozone man," but three years later the scientists who discovered
the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In
2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, "the resulting chaos could
easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we
presently face from Saddam." And so it has proved.
But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to
name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to
discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore
has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate
isn't just inconvenient. For conservatives, it's deeply threatening.
Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.
"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,"
said F.D.R. "We know now that it is bad economics." These words apply
perfectly to climate change. It's in the interest of most people (and
especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce
emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each
individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up
to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be
The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common
good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right
thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on
greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on
emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has
pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such
policies work: the U.S. "cap and trade" system of emission permits on
sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.
Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain,
because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America's lakes
mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon
dioxide in America's air comes from coal and oil burned around the
planet - and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the
future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate
change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also
requires international negotiations in which the United States will
have to give as well as get.
Everything I've just said should be uncontroversial - but imagine the
reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he
acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good
Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never
raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully
foreigners, not negotiate with them.
So if science says that we have a big problem that can't be solved
with tax cuts or bombs - well, the science must be rejected, and the
scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor's Business Daily
recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA
researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades
ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of - who else? - George
Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his
case the smear campaign has failed. He's taken everything they could
throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than
ever. And it drives them crazy.