“Taking dead aim”: Gov. Manchin, coal, politics, pitching stories and the public interest

October 11, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

It’s good that Gov. Manchin is taking such a “balanced approach” to coal issues in his campaign for the U.S. Senate … If you’ve missed it, the latest Manchin campaign ad promotes the governor’s lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and his opposition to federal legislation — supported by American Electric Power and praised by the United Mine Workers — to curb global warming:

I sued EPA, and I’ll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, because it’s bad for West Virginia.

If the television ads from all sides weren’t enough to make the public tired of politicians and elections, imagine if you had to deal with the campaign consultants and PR people constantly trying to run down their guy’s opponent.

Absent from any of it is any thought of actually discussing the issues in a way that allows the voters to make good decisions come Election Day.

Take the phone call I just got last week from a nice fellow from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee … This guy wanted me to do a story about some remarks that Republican Senate candidate John Raese made four or five years ago about “abolishing federal pollution rules.”

Now, I don’t know exactly what remarks he was talking about, but I would be surprised if Mr. Raese didn’t make them, given what he’s said on his campaign Web site about government regulations:

Unshackle our businesses, small and large, by eliminating unnecessary regulation and taxes while streamlining those that will remain.

But you should have heard this Democratic campaign guy squirm around when I asked him about Gov. Manchin’s lawsuit  to try to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from applying Clean Water Act protections to mountaintop removal coal mining here in Appalachia.

You remember that lawsuit, the one in which DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said that EPA has “invaded and usurped the authority of the state of West Virginia” to regulate its own coal-mining industry.

The DSCC guy said that EPA lawsuit was a different issue … How so, I asked? He said he would have to get back to me on that.

On the one hand, Gov. Manchin wants to trumpet how he’ll stand up to those nasty federal regulators who want to protect West Virginia’s mountains and streams (not to mention the planet’s climate). On the other hand, Manchin’s Democratic Party supporters nationally want to convince me to do a story about how bad John Raese would be for the environment? Come now.

Democrats may have lots of reasons to support Gov. Manchin on Nov. 2. But even the governor isn’t arguing that his record on environmental issues and coal is one of them.

My buddy from the DSCC?  That phone call was last Thursday, and I haven’t heard a peep out of him since.

16 Responses to ““Taking dead aim”: Gov. Manchin, coal, politics, pitching stories and the public interest”

  1. Lisa says:

    I find this ad the most despicable and chilling political ad of all time. That’s quite a new low, given the horrid things that get broadcast each election season.

    There should be no place in our democratic society for a political candidate – never mind an elected official – who proposes and glorifies violence as a solution to disagreements over public policy.

    Manchin should be quickly and firmly condemned for this ad by Dems, Independents and Repubs alike.

    I face my own lousy choices as a voter in KY, but this is truly awful.

  2. Monty says:

    I don’t know whether to shake my head in stunned amazement or wash my hands at the sheer … tackiness? of that ad. No wonder the rest of the country makes fun of us sometimes. Sheesh. Way to advocate settling your disagreements with gunfire there, Joe!

  3. em2 says:

    Good Information Ken Thanks

  4. Patience says:

    Maybe the DSCC guy didn’t want to come out and say something like, Hey, we know Joe is campaigning on killing cap-and-trade and suing the EPA, but he’s just trying to shore up his support on the right and establish some distance between himself and President Obama. We know – wink, wink – that when he gets to the Senate, Joe will be a “good” Dem and go along with the party.

    In which case, it’s the DSCC that’s being delusional.

    Boy, do we have lousy choices. The only – and I do mean ONLY – consolation in this is that we get to revisit our decision in two years, instead of six.

  5. Jeff Young says:

    What do you think of the rhetorical imagery of the rifle here? Is this a tacit endorsement of violence as a way to deal with environmental critics? Given the level of emotion and displays of aggression and harassment at public hearings on permits, isn’t Manchin playing a dangerous game here?

  6. Dana Kuhnline says:

    I am interested in what Jeff is saying. On a personal level, I just about jumped out of my socks when I saw him waving that gun around.

    It would be one thing if he was just talking about his NRA endorsement and hunting. Guns seem appropriate in that context.

    But when your metaphorical target is environmentalists and you’re using a real gun to talk about it…that’s distressing.

    What would Senator Byrd think?

  7. Monty says:

    That is what I was getting at, Jeff and Dana. Going after an NRA endorsement is one thing. This ad seems to be … something else.

    I would venture to say that the message some of the more ardent supporters of mountaintop removal mining and limiting the EPA’s authority to regulate it will take away from this ad is that it is OK to use extreme forms of violence if you disagree with someone. I mean, heck, there is the governor of the state of West Virginia, our chief executive officer, waving his high-powered rifle around, squinting through the scope and then putting a nice round bullet hole dead-center in the, um, “target.” I think this ad may become one of those “unintended consequences” things very quickly, and it would be nice if the governor dialed down the showmanship a bit.

  8. Thomas Rodd says:

    There’s a great discussion of the politics of climate legislation today at the Climate Progress Blog, http://climateprogress.org/2010/10/12/anatomy-of-a-senate-climate-bill-death/.

    The bottom line of the article for me is that getting new “environmental” legislation during times of high unemployment is much, much, MUCH more difficult. The author says the question should not be “Why did climate legislation fail?” but “How did it get so far?”

    Every year we that delay putting a price on carbon pollution seriously increases the injury to our children and grandchildren. We have to make a national political deal that Joe Manchin or whoever else is in the Senate can accept and sell as “Good for West Virginia.”

    This can be done, and will be done. When, however, is another question, and every year of business as usual that passes takes us closer to catastrophe.

    Let’s get going!

  9. Casey says:

    You may not like the message but the ad is only symbolism which is often used in sports, business and generally life. My guess is that the ad will play well to most WV voters. My only criticism is that the Gov does not appear to be wearing hearing protection. Nice shot though.

  10. Monty says:

    True, Casey, the ad is “only symbolism,” but symbols can convey powerful messages, whether the messages are unstated or not, and whether the message delivered is the intended one or not. In this political ad we have the governor of West Virginia using a deadly weapon to “kill” a piece of environmental legislation he doesn’t like, thereby conveying the message that it is OK to use deadly force, in this case a high-powered rifle, to put a bullet through the middle of something you don’t agree with.

    Pretty powerful message. Leni Riefenstahl would have understood it just fine. She produced a little movie called “Triumph of the Will” back in the 1930s. Pretty powerful symbolism in that one, too. Maybe that was another one of those ones where violence wasn’t the intended consequence. Too bad it didn’t work out quite that way.

  11. Dave Bassage says:

    I’m frankly flabbergasted by that rifle ad. This from the same Governor I heard admonish coal industry leaders two years ago that the science for the human role in global warming was strong and they’d better find a way to be part of the solution. This from the same Governor who less than a year ago was one of only a handful of participants at an economic summit packed with business leaders who raised his hand when a speaker asked how many in the audience believed that human activity plays a significant role in a warming planet.

    With this ad Manchin lost the vote of every voter in the state who cares about the environment. He certainly lost mine. Does he really think he’ll woo enough voters from the anti-environment side who would have voted for Raese or stayed home otherwise?

    As a centrist, Manchin would have been far better served to focus on appealing to the middle, not demonstrating he can be as wacky or wackier than his opponent. He certainly provided plenty of fodder for any future election opponent who might want to present himself or herself as the saner, more reasonable alternative.

    And yes, the imagery is especially disturbing. With that example, I dread the thought that some West Virginian somewhere will decide to use a firearm to address some future environmental issue. Sorry, Casey, but there’s a world of difference between the verbal symbolism of ‘shooting down’ a piece of legislation and the powerful visual image of actually watching a candidate wield a live weapon, chamber a round, and shoot a bullet through a cause a number of former Manchin supporters endorse.

    That could end of being the shot that ends his political career.

  12. Thomas Rodd says:

    “Cap-and-trade” as a shorthand way of describing a certain climate deal is indeed dead, and why worry about just who killed it and when?

    Now we need a new climate deal — and in fact a new deal, with a new name, is coming — the only question is when.

    When the new deal arrives, Joe Manchin or whoever will be able to find that it is “Good for West Virginia” — if we are strong enough. Let’s work on that.

    Meanwhile, not voting at all for a Senator is anyone’s quite understandable prerogative, but then they don’t get to complain.

    Voting for anyone other than Manchin is a vote for Raese.

    It’s that simple.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  13. Thomas Rodd says:

    Dave Bassage, thanks for doing a great job pointing out the things Joe Manchin has said that indicates that he get’s climate change — although he is taking a strong stand against “cap and trade.”

    Here’s a link to a great Climate Progress Post on the death of cap and trade — and teasing Manchin for killing a dead parrot!


    By the way, I don’t really think that principled non-voters don’t get to complain, that was a cheap shot. I’ve done it myself and I still complained plenty.

  14. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Thanks, Tom …

    There’s another good write-up on the failure of cap-and-trade in The New Yorker, available here:



  15. Bob Kincaid says:

    I’ve tried to let this ad settle into my consciousness for a few days before offering any thoughts. Sadly, the time I’ve allowed for introspection hasn’t made matters any better.

    This ad is disturbing (about the mildest word I can come up with) on a number of levels. Let’s consider them:

    (1) As noted above, Joe is using a deadly weapon to describe how he’ll respond to those who pursue legislation within the legal, accepted course of the process. Is that the act of a man responsible enough to sit in the Senate of the United States?

    (2) Joe himself convened a meeting early this year to address issues of coalfield violence and announced his administration would categorically not tolerate such violence. Now, however, with an election in the near offing, he resorts to violent imagery right out of the eliminationist playbook so often resorted to by the coal industry’s supporters.

    (3) He uses the rifle in conjunction with discussions of policies he alleges are espoused by the legally elected President of the United States of America. Let’s face it: if Joe put this on YouTube as a private citizen it would be taken down immediately and he’d get a friendly visit from some humorless fellows in dark suits who talk to their wrists.

    (4) It’s mid-October. November 22 is a little over a month away. That day remains, for millions of Americans including me, a raw and vicious anniversary, a reminder of what can happen when eliminationist rhetoric runs high. Joe apparently thought tapping into that zeitgeist would be a sharp political move. Is it really? After all, the Secret Service has reported that death threats against this president are at an all time high, as the signs from various Tea “Party” rallies ably attest.

    As I’ve noted elsewhere, this race has made me absolutely sick, and the nastiness has been spread equally by both parties. It leaves me only one viable option, namely to reject them both.

  16. Dave Bassage says:

    We have two intersecting issues here: climate change strategy and campaign strategy.

    Existing cap and trade legislation may well have been dead before Manchin’s rifle shot. I’ve always held that the most rational climate change strategy would be a straight carbon tax, as it would not only reduce carbon emissions but also generate revenue that could be targeted to regions most negatively impacted by those reductions.

    I heard a presentation from an economist a few years ago who asserted that there would be a net zero economic impact nationally from a carbon tax, with strong gains in some regions but strong negative economic impacts in coalfield communities. He claimed that there would be sufficient tax proceeds to offer displaced coal miners four years full pay AND four years tuition at the college or trade school of their choice to prepare them for different careers. I like that sort of approach.

    Cap and trade, as a concept, has a proven track record addressing acid rain and ozone. It generates revenue for cleaner industries which should provide them with an economic edge that may well ultimately translate into clean energy jobs, but there’s no guarantee those jobs will either be geographically close to lost coal jobs or be a good match for the skills of those displace coal industry employees.

    There is little question that we will take some sort of action on climate change in the years to come. However that plays out, coal will be impacted. Coal has the largest carbon footprint of any fossil fuel. “Clean” coal technologies, while theoretically possible, remove much or all of the economic edge coal has long held over other energy options, as it costs more to get less energy out of a ton of coal.

    So despite claims from coal industry leaders that we have a couple of centuries worth of coal left in the ground here, odds are very good that in the decades to come coal will become a smaller and smaller portion of the national energy and state economic and employment picture. That’s just my take and I could well be wrong, but that sure seems to me to be an accurate trend assessment.

    It would be wonderful if we had elected leadership eager to lead us forward into a new economy rather than cling to a past that, frankly, never served us all that well even in the best of times. But in today’s political climate I don’t see any such leaders on the horizon.

    And that means there’s a good chance things will have to get worse before they can start getting better.

    I’ve defended Manchin in the past because as noted, I’ve heard him make statements more than once that indicate he “gets it” about the human role in a warming planet. And I have no doubt that he would take a more rational approach to climate change and most other issues as a Senator than Raese would. That would normally be enough to secure my vote.

    But frankly that ad offended me on so many levels that for the first time in my life I find myself unable to even hold my nose and vote anyway. It saddens me to have to say that, as I too have often chided others who complain yet stay away from the polls.

    Manchin has a long political track record. Raese has none. If Manchin can’t secure a win on his own merits without straying far from his centrist values then perhaps he either doesn’t deserve to win or the voters don’t deserve to have him.

    All I know is that while cap and trade may not be my favorite climate change strategy it’s a whole lot better than continuing to ignore a problem we should have already taken strong action on. Add in all the negative imagery already well covered here and that bullet might as well have gone whizzing by my ear.

    That being the case, I’m inclined to hunker down. It’s been said that when it gets the darkest the stars come out. Maybe our prospects need to darken before we can find true stars to vote for.

Leave a Reply