It’s frequently suggested that Obama appoint a Republican to his cabinet to demonstrate his bipartisan (or is it post-partisan?) bona fides. When it comes to Secretary of State, he reportedly has Sens. Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar on his short list.
Of course nothing’s wrong with post-bipartisanship, but it’s worth noting that one important task of the next SecState will be to travel the world attempting to accomplish an extraordinarily delicate and difficult feat of diplomacy: to cajole the world’s varied economies to join together in a legally enforceable international climate agreement. Doing that will take deep commitment and knowledge.
Hagel was out ahead of many of his Senate colleagues in acknowledging the existence of climate change, but he led the Senate fight against Kyoto and went on to oppose any mandatory restriction on greenhouse gas emissions (he helped kill the Lieberman-Warner climate bill this summer). His proposed solutions are laughably weak and his understanding is shallow at best. Witness this remarkable exchange in Hagel’s 2005 interview with Grist:
Grist: While [U.K. Prime Minister Tony] Blair supports mandatory caps, your proposal does not include them. Why?
Hagel: I have always believed that the marketplace does work. It works because it’s based on one fundamental dynamic, which is self-interest of an individual, a company, or a country. The marketplace fosters competition and always trends toward producing a better, cheaper product, which means it is a driver of efficiency. It’s in the interests of everyone here to make a cheaper product that’s less energy intensive. It cleans up the environment, which has economic advantages too, given the medical end-costs that nations incur when its citizens are afflicted with asthma and cancer and other health effects that come from pollution.
Grist: So you’re arguing that caps inhibit the marketplace? My understanding is that they can be an effective economic device used to accelerate the marketplace and encourage innovation and competition.
Hagel: Any time you put mandatory caps on any program — which I’m opposed to — you are going to have a consequence from that, and I don’t think it’s going to be a good consequence. You will lower productivity standards, you will lower efficiency standards, you will lower job choices, and you will lower the whole quality economic dynamic when you try and artificially cap energy use.
Grist: I have heard quite the opposite. Let’s take the example of the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would impose a market-based cap-and-trade program to accelerate innovation of clean technologies.
Hagel: That’s not good for the market. That’s not good or smart for anybody because that doesn’t let the marketplace work finding its own efficiencies. That’s why I’m always opposed to those kinds of remedies and I’m opposed to McCain-Lieberman.
Grist: But you would have polluters paying the innovators to develop ever cleaner and more efficient technologies — it would propel innovation.
Hagel: No, not at all. Because the people who will gain from that are people like nuclear power. Do you think nuclear power is more innovative than every other kind of electricity-producing source? What cap-and-trade does is it picks winners and losers. It has nothing to do with innovation. It throws off the natural market system that does work.
This evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of how cap-and-trade works — its mechanisms and its economic effects. Will someone who thinks this way be able to persuade China to place mandatory restrictions on its emissions?
Lugar is better. He has acknowledged the danger of global warming and co-sponsored (with Joe Biden) a resolution (PDF) calling on the Bush administration to engage seriously in international climate talks. He’s arranged Senate hearings on climate and national security. He’s also been an eloquent voice on energy independence and led, with Obama, Biden, and others, a doomed bipartisan effort to raise fuel economy standards.
He gave this astonishingly astute assessment of the next president’s fate to Mother Jones:
The president will have advisers who will be whispering cautions about the risks of committing the prestige of any administration to aggressive energy goals. Those advisers will say with some credibility that a president can appear forward-looking on energy with a few carefully chosen initiatives and occasional optimistic rhetoric promoting alternative sources. They will say that the voting public’s overwhelming energy concern is high prices for gasoline and home heating, and that as long as the president appears attentive to those concerns they can cover their political bases without asking for sacrifices or risking the possible failure of a more controversial energy policy.
Grist: Do you think that mandatory controls are needed right now?
Lugar: I think we at least better start with a flexible cap-and-trade mechanism before instituting a mandate, so that when we do it’s not a cataclysmic shock to the economy.
The "cap" in "cap-and-trade" refers to a mandatory cap — the core of any serious climate policy. If you don’t understand cap-and-trade, can you negotiate an international agreement centered on carbon trading?
Neither Hagel nor Lugar has shown much evidence that they understand the urgency of climate change or the scope of the measures necessary to address it. Insofar as a substantial international climate agreement is a precondition of a successful Obama presidency, that might be considered a serious liability for the administration’s chief negotiator.