Who cares about the “War On Coal”?

Today, apparently, the President made some sort of a speech about climate change.  I assume that it was moving. It likely called on traditions of shared American values to exhort us to rise up and take collective responsibility for our future.  For the children.  And obviously, it didn’t matter because nobody listens to speeches and because it didn’t do anything to alter the allocation of seats in Congress.  However, something mattered: the EPA is moving ahead with plans to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from utilities under the authority of the Clean Air Act.  It’s a less economically efficient tactic than levying a fee on carbon emission or instituting cap-and-trade…but it has the incredible virtue of not requiring Congress to participate.  This has prompted the usual grumbling from the usual suspects.

One phrase that seems to be everywhere is the “War On Coal”.  It’s a commonplace on Fox News and talk radio, and ever since 2008 I’ve been hearing it both during the coverage and commercials on Fox.  Apparently conservatives on Twitter are trying to make #WaronCoal happen. It’s a phrase that seems to have worked itself pretty deeply into the conservative talking points on climate change.  And I just do. not. get. it.

I suspect the median voter is totally unmoved when they hear about a “war on coal”.  Coal polls terribly – it’s disgusting and dirty and people don’t have positive associations with it.  According to a recent Gallup poll, a bare 31% of Americans want to develop more domestic coal.  It is the least popular form of energy, compared to solar power which commands 76% support!  My best guess is that when the median voter hears Republicans talking about the “war on coal”, it has an effect ranging from totally neutral to “hey, that sounds pretty good!”.  I can’t fathom how savvy pollsters and politicians decided repeating this phrase was an awesome idea.

During the election I had the same thought about invoking the phrase “entrepreneurialism“.  It seems like it plays great on Fox News but just doesn’t resonate with most people who aren’t already tuned to the Republican message.  “Messaging” isn’t the most important thing in politics, but appealing to the median voter is – and focusing on issues that most people don’t care about is a losing strategy.  The “war on coal” is small in the grand scheme of things, but is suggestive that the conservative media ecosystem encourages conservative leaders to be lazy.


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