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The ‘Elitism’ Trap Migrates From Transport Reform to Climate Change

4:33 PM EDT on September 30, 2009

Transportation debates have a terminology all their own, whether arcane ("multi-modal"), hard to define ("subsidies"), or outright misleading -- as is the case with "elitism," the standard line that road-building acolytes often apply to those who suggest that the government focus more on expanding transit and other forms of clean transport.

waxman_markey1.jpgClimate bill coauthors: Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. (Photo: Wash Indy)

Now that the issue of climate change has come to the fore again in Washington, however, the E-word is breaking out all over. The Senate and House climate bills devote a disproportionately little attention to transportation reform, but the GOP strategy for undermining them seems to be all about stereotyping climate advocates as urbanized elitists.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) did it this afternoon at a press event slamming the Senate climate legislation:

It's hard to believe that Kerry-Boxer is worse than the other California-Massachusetts bill, the Waxman-Markey bill. ... I am most concerned that this job will kill manufacturing andcoal-dependent jobs in the Midwest, South and Great Plains.

And a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski used the same rhetorical devise in an interview with Roll Call:

“Theclimate change debate is being driven by California and Massachusetts,”Murkowski spokesman Rob Dylan said. “People forget what life is in themiddle of the country, and I think that’s what we’re trying to talkabout.” 

The conservative National Review has also taken the cue on the California-Massachusetts dis.

It's no surprise that opponents of congressional action on climate change are trotting out the elitism trope, but it is a distressing sign that the nation's cities, long under-represented in policy debates despite their powerful legislators, are about to become pawns in two culture wars at once.

California and Massachusetts are not just transit-rich, they're also the nation's No. 1 and No. 15 most-populated states. In a Congress increasingly dominated by rural-state lawmakers, it's not such a bad thing to see Californians and Massachusettsans being spoken for on the climate question.

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