Biden the Trimmer

In Praise of Trimmers

Biden’s debate-night comment on oil highlights the delicate tightrope he must walk on climate change

Biden Pledges Ambitious Climate Action. Here’s What He Could Actually Do.

Trimmer is a good old English word, usually meaning “a person who adapts their views to the prevailing political trends for personal advancement,” a flip-flopper in other words. There are other meanings too, according to Cass Sunstein. He describes two kinds of trimmers: compromisers and preservers—those who would pursue a middle course and those who would keep the best of competing positions.

In the last presidential debate (and its consequences) we saw Joe Biden caught up on a comment he made that he would “transition from the oil industry” to fight climate change. Trump jumped all over this, of course, and Biden was later forced to backwater, at least somewhat, from the controversy his comment generated. You know the old phrase, “hoist by his own petard.”

Biden and his aides quickly tried to clean things up, saying that he was talking about ending federal subsidies for oil companies and underscoring the long arc of his plan. “We’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time,” he told reporters later that night.

The liberal climateers were very pleased with the transition remark. House Democrats in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas were quick to take issue with it. Biden has also had trouble with some ambiguous remarks about fracking. And he has sometimes behaved like what Sunstein would approvingly call a compromiser.

There are plenty of Democrats as well as Republicans upset with his stance on oil. Yet many back his $2 trillion climate plan to counter global warming. Biden knows the politics of this are going to be extremely difficult, and so he is walking a tightrope. Should the Dems win the Senate, the existing filibuster rule will be his biggest obstacle. Some of the pitfalls and difficulties are laid out here.

Several commentators have encouraged Joe to “go big” on the Green New Deal. If he doesn’t he will come off as a trimmer—in the negative sense of that term. But his whole experience in politics has been to seek compromise, work across the aisle, and enlist opposition support.

I think Joe is sincere but in my view he has to stop the trimming and stick to his “transition” sales pitch. In a recent interview with Dan Pfeiffer he made an elaborate defense of his climate plans. As usual, he’s good on the goals but glosses over the political problems in getting there.

You know, we cannot discount the concerns of people, what it means for their well-being and not only in the future and now, but what about how they make a living? That’s why I’m the first person I’m aware of that went to every major labor union in the country and got them to sign on to my climate change plan, which is extensive. We’re going to get to zero net emissions for the production of electricity by 2035. It’s going to create millions of jobs. But we’ve got to let people—we can’t be cavalier about the impact it’s going to have on how we’re going to transition to do all this. But I just think it’s a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to create really good jobs.

One Reply to “Biden the Trimmer”

  1. John, thanks, “trimmer” is yet another Briticism I didn’t know. And I am so naive that I was very surprised at the commotion caused by Biden simply mentioning transitioning to oil. What a radical idea.
    As to having a beer with the candidate, your comment in the previous blog, “Of course I will vote for Biden, but that doesn’t mean he’s an appealing candidate. The man needs a shot of mezcal, not a beer” is exactly the way I felt about Michael Dukakis.

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