Greenwire on Obama's Strategy to Morally Stigmatize Conservatives Who Dismiss Climate Change

Last week I spoke with Elana Schor of Greenwire about the Obama White House and Organizing for America's strategy to pre-empt efforts by conservatives to undermine support for the proposed EPA limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The strategy marks an important shift in communication focus, as Obama and allies make the moral case for action on climate change and in the process morally stigmatize their opponents. For more background on this strategy, see this recently published book chapter with Ezra Markowitz and John Kotcher.


Here's an excerpt from Greenwire's reporting on the strategy:

Another Republican blasting the OFA campaign is Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a walking, talking symbol of fossil-fuel influence for most green activists, who began on Wednesday to investigate potential coordination between the Obama administration and the White House's nonprofit cavalry (E&ENews PM, Aug. 14).

"There's no better measure of success than when you can get the chief climate denier in Congress to start throwing out conspiracy theories," David DiMartino, a veteran Democratic aide turned strategist who worked closely on the cap-and-trade battle, said in an interview. "The reality is, he's out of touch."

The urgency created by a response such as Inhofe's probe aligns with the general mission of the OFA effort, according to American University associate professor of communication Matthew Nisbet, who studies in depth the tactics used by both sides of the debate.

"What they're doing is socially and morally stigmatizing those political opponents who deny the science of climate change," Nisbet said in an interview.

"So instead of leaving the middle-ground public to be caught in these cross-pressures as the issue gains more salience for them, instead of it just being a 'he said, she said'-type echo chamber, they're sending a very strong message: ... Just like the birther claims were wrong and morally outrageous, and 'death panels' were wrong and morally outrageous, so are climate [deniers wrong] when people's health and safety are at risk."

The "high-end viral potential" of the unicorn-trophies strategy contrasts with the cap-and-trade era during Obama's first term, when "the issue was discussed almost exclusively in technocratic terms," Nisbet added. He and Leiserowitz of Yale University agreed that OFA's new approach is well-suited to engage sectors of the public previously distant from the risks of greenhouse gas emissions, even if it does not pay off at the ballot box against Republicans.

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