The Conversation

Democrats are Preparing 'ScienceSaysSo' as 2016's 'WaronWomen'

Monday President Obama's official Twitter account sent out the following message:

This account is not actually run by Barack Obama but by Organizing for Action (a 501(c)(4) which got quick approval from the IRS).

The tweet Monday seemed a bit random and out of context until today when Greg Sargent at the Washington Post pointed out that this is just one part of a progressive media campaign. The campaign includes an OFA ad released yesterday but also a major ad blitz by the League of Conservation Voters with a nearly identical message. LCV plans to spend $2 million on ads attacking Republicans as climate change deniers.

The interesting part is that this isn't solely aimed at 2014. According to Sargent, the goal is to ramp up the political impact of the "deniers" attack for later use:

environmentalists see this as a long game. (To underscore the point, the LCV recently released polling that shows climate change is a pressing issue among young voters in particular.) Right now, the prospects for Congressional action on climate are bleak, and the only hope for action probably rests on whatever Obama can do via executive authority. In the near term, environmentalists and Democrats have no choice but to do whatever they can to generate media discussion of the climate issue, which has historically been hard to generate. Obama’s political arm, Organizing for Action, is also targeting climate deniers in Congress, and as Steve Benen notes, the real goal here is to use this as something for progressives to organize around.

Did you get all that? Climate change is big with young voters so LCV and OFA are trying to generate some early buzz. The goal is to give progressives something to "organize around." In other words, they want this to be the "#waronwomen" for future elections. Indeed, Sargent opens by noting how unfortunate it is that "expressions of rank climate denialism are not anywhere near as politically toxic as crazy comments about abortion..." Democrats' goal is to change that.

As I pointed out here, the #waronwomen meme was about generating widespread outrage from a handful of soundbites while simultaneously pretending to be making a serious policy argument. The two-tiered nature of the attack made it difficult to rebut. Anyone who pointed out that Democrats were just whipping up outrage was met with faux-serious policy arguments. Anyone who stuck to policy arguments was asked to denounce the outrageous quotes. And everyone who said it was a silly partisan attack became part of the "war on women."

Given that the "war on women" seems to have worked for Democrats as a rallying cry in 2012 (binders full of women! was similarly big with young people) it would be a mistake to underestimate the replacement meme. You can probably see how "#ScienceSaysSo" could fill the same role in a coming 2016 campaign. Democrats brandish a few disconnected quotes to attack an entire party and anyone who objects becomes part of the Republican "war on science."

Even as Republicans fight back, the empty phrase gets repeated ad nauseam by the media. Eventually polls show Americans are concerned about the "war on science," albeit without being able to say what it is beyond a couple of soundbites. Finally, the media backstops the Democrats by selecting a few scientists who are able to make the whole thing sound high-minded rather than part of a partisan political fight.

A strategy which relies on people's ignorance and outrage doesn't require a 12-point refutation. It requires a GOP candidate who says early and often, "I want to be the candidate of science." Later when the Democrats begin their war on science maneuver, the candidate can simply refer back to this as something that was settled earlier. Most people won't know who is right so they will conclude that the candidate deserves some benefit of the doubt because, well, he (or she) did say it.

Meanwhile, the GOP should also push back a bit on the extremism of groups like Sierra and LCV. They oppose the use of fossil fuels across the board, not just "dirty coal" but all coal, oil and natural gas (especially gas produced by fracking). The move against natural gas is especially suspect. Science is not leading the charge against fracking--politics and celebrities are doing that.


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