An analysis of some strong parallels in political and rhetorical style, which no doubt will outrage both sides of the comparison.
The comments to Kevin Drum’s and Matt Yglesias’s nuclear power posts paint a picture with four features that are common in such debates but which I hadn’t really noticed before.
1. There’s a strong similarity between the Bushies and the anti-nuke forces in the way they deal with dissent. If someone who used to be on their side of the argument (about Iraq or nuclear power) comes down on the other side, it’s always from some character flaw or venal motive, never because thinking about it caused him (or her) to have a change of views.
Under these rules of engagement, apostasy makes any credibility the heretic might have built through expertise or devoted service instantly disappear. Moreover, any nasty thing you can think of to say about that person is worth saying, no matter how remote from the merits of the case. Take a look at the hit-piece on Moore at SourceWatch (made up to look like a Wikipedia entry) and linked to by David Rogers of Grist. Why should Burton-Marsteller’s record with the Argentine junta be of interest to someone who wants to know who Moore is? Is the fact that Moore had an op-ed in a newspaper that also publishes Henry Kissinger’s column really an argument against paying attention to his arguments?
2. Again, under these rules, the fact that a position is supported by someone your side has demonized (Michael Moore, say, or George W. Bush) proves not only that the position in question is evil but that anyone who supports it is mad, bad, or just plain stupid. And scatological insults are the most appropriate form of refutation.
Consider this from Matt’s comments (riffing on Matt’s remark that he hasn’t studied the problem carefully but leans toward the pro-nuke side):
I don’t know that much about it… but it all seems so scary and frightening to me that I think I will throw in with the crowd that brought us The California Energy Scam, Enron, Iraq, Katrina, and Iran. I am so scared, I think I just messed my pants. Please help me Mr. Bush!
Or, as one of Kevin’s commenters wittily remarks:
anyone favoring nuclear power is a homicidal, suicidal maniac.
and an erstwhile totalitarian
(Well, you wouldn’t really expect someone utterly ignorant of economics and engineering to know where the shift key is or what “erstwhile” means, would you?)
3. Bushies and anti-nukes are also alike in their faith in proof by assertion and repetition. If you say often enough that things are going well in Iraq, that proves that it’s so, and that the emerging civil war is merely imaginary. If you say often enough that there’s no way to dispose of nuclear waste, that instantly renders infeasible the proposal to: (1) recycle the plutonium into new fuel pellets: (2) store the small amount of truly “hot” stuff in swimming pools for a few decades until it cools down; and (3) vitrify (i.e., make glass bricks out of) the vast bulk of not-very-radioactive waste, including the “hot” material after a few of its half-lives, and build a pyramid somewhere in the desert, creating a glow-in-the-dark manmade wonder that ought to be good for the tourist trade.
4. Anti-nukes come in (at least) two flavors, not unlike the split between the social conservatives and the supply sider/neocon faction among the Bushies. One group of anti-nukes argues that of course we can have (and the third world can come to have) all the consumer goods we want without nuclear power and without cooking the planet. In lieu of explanations, that group then mumbles some mantras: “wind,” “solar,” “tidal,” and (the most potent incantation of all) “conservation.”
The other group of anti-nukes argues that of course we can’t and shouldn’t have worldwide prosperity on the consumer-capitalist model, and that the problems with nuclear power just illustrates that we need to learn (and to teach starving Africans and Asians) that less is more. In particular, central-station power generation is inherently, as an objective matter, pro-fascist, and all power must be generated in backyards as a matter of political principle. Amory Lovins has invented entirely new principles of economics and physics that prove this is perfectly feasible.
What’s fascinating is that the two groups, diametrically opposed on the central question of whether it’s OK to consume lots of energy, never criticise each other; they’re united against the common enemy.
None of the above is to say that Patrick Moore is actually worth listening to. According to the Honolulu Observer (in a story that has a link from the Wikipedia entry on Moore) Moore seems to have told a biotech convention that global warming is good because it will increase the amount of arable land. If that’s what he really said, he has a screw loose somewhere, and if he really believes it then it’s not clear why he should count reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants (as opposed to other noxious emissions from coal plants) as a benefit of going nuclear. That article is a much more potent reason to discount Moore than SourceWatch’s slime-and-defend on behalf of environmental orthodoxy.