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Market Forces at Work in Energy Conservation

Atlantic Monthly Death Spiral Watch (Marc Ambinder Edition)

Levenson of the Inverse Square Blog http://inversesquare.wordpress.com/, who reads Marc Ambinder so we don't have to, emails that at 8:40 AM July 31, 2008 Marc Ambinder wrote:

Marc Ambinder: Energy In McCain's Move?: ST. LOUIS, MO -- The Varsity Squad heads to Cedar Rapids, Iowa this morning to hear Barack Obama talk about energy policy.  Exxon-Mobil's $11 billion profit will certainly show up in Obama's remarks. But will Obama mention, refer to, hint it at the the Britney ad and chatter that he's become a presumptuous celebrity?  The vaunted Obama message machine surely wouldn't go off track..not even one teensy spike... . so if Obama mentions it this morning, it means that somewhere, somehow, his advisers worry about the perception gelling. Of course, it is totally true that the press corps (moi) would notice if Obama didn't mention it and would write stories with headlines like "Obama Ignores McCain Jab."  Campaigns can't win...

And by 1:48 PM was writing:

Marc Ambinder: Bluffing 'Bout Bias?: EDAR RAPIDS, IOWA -- Really, the press corps should pay attention to Barack Obama's sustained defense of his energy policies, which includes new language on John McCain's ties to the oil industry.  But we're not: we're writing about the flashpoint of the day, which is the McCain campaign's contention that Obama is illegally playing the "race card," of bluffing about bias...

Let's take a look at the videotape. As of 8:40 AM:

  • The flashpoint of the day was would Barack Obama react to McCain's Britney ad, and so give reporters the excuse to ignore all matters of substance?
  • Or would Barack Obama stay on message and talk about energy?

Obama stayed on message and talked about energy. But by 1:48 PM Ambinder has forgotten all about what he wrote at 8:40 AM. As of 1:48:

  • Ambinder knows that he should inform the American people about energy issues
  • But he won't
  • Not because he has to talk about Britney Spears--Britney is forgotten
  • But because Ambinder wants to talk about "the McCain campaign's contention that Obama is illegally playing the 'race card', of bluffing about bias."

As of 8:30 Ambinder was going to write about either energy or Britney Spears. But as of 1:48 he is writing about something else--because McCain is telling him to. As Tom Levenson writes, this is:

a full scale admission that [Ambinder] writes about what the McCain people are playing him to write about. It wouldn't be any better if Obama were doing the playing; the point is that there is a real set of issues around energy, none of which Ambinder seems minded to cover. And he's kind of proud about it. I'll probably put something on this up on my blog -- but I'm trying to keep something of my promise to write about the history of science and the intersection of science and public life, and this stuff touches on neither. Plus the fact that orders of magnitude more people pay attention to your plaints than mine. So here 'tis, free, gratis and for nothing...

Let me first disagree with Tom. The fact that Marc Ambinder will not write about energy issues--which are, at bottom, scientific issues--under any circumstances--the fact that wild horses could not drag Marc Ambinder to write about energy issues--that has a great deal to do with the intersection of science and public life. (I would say cf. C.P. Snow, "The Two Cultures," but I'm not sure it's relevant.)

Let me, second, propose a way of dealing with Ambinder and his ilk. He says he ought to be writing about energ policy--but won't. I think our appropriate response is to say that we ought to be reading somebody who writes about what he thinks he ought to be writing about--and we will now go do so.