Jazz Shaw has an inexcusably sloppy post at Hot Air bearing the misleading title Don’t look now, but Ted Cruz just caved on ethanol (Updated). As I will show in detail, Cruz has done no such thing — but Shaw, with his perch at Hot Air, is misleading an awful lot of people with his nonsensical post. What’s more, many people have called him on it, and he still has not retracted. It’s an important issue, at an important time, and he is giving aid and comfort to those who seek to bring down the best hope we have for limited government. So I’m not inclined to be kind.
Shaw starts off with a bit of unintended irony:
You know, it was just the other day when I was telling you about how effective Ted Cruz has been in Iowa in spite of his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard and related mandates by the government, particularly in the energy sector. I seem to recall using words like brave, or perhaps heroic. It was, I concluded, a potential game changer in terms of the power of King Corn and the ethanol lobby.
Well, there’s a sucker born every minute and apparently this time it was me.
Yes, Mr. Shaw, you certainly are playing a sucker — but not in the way you think.
The link goes to a post titled SENATOR TED CRUZ LISTENS TO IOWA FARMERS, SUPPORTS RENEWABLE FUEL STANDARD THROUGH 2022. The post is by “America’s Renewable Future,” a pro-ethanol political organization. Confronted with the fact that Cruz is probably going to win Iowa, despite opposing their agenda, these folks do what all good lobbyists do: spin a loss to look like a win. In order to do that, they have to pretend Cruz’s position just changed to favor them.
Let’s do what Shaw didn’t bother to do, and see what Cruz actually said. The audio, oddly enough, is right there at the link that Shaw provides. For those who can’t handle listening to a short audio clip (like Shaw), I am going to provide a complete transcription — to my knowledge, the first time that has been done since the story broke. (There is a very partial and inaccurate transcript at this Washington Examiner post, but mine is complete.)
CRUZ: …expand its penetration, which is what I expect to happen when I’m elected president.
VOTER: But you also know that the RFS was created and put with a time limit of 2022. And that was to give us the confidence to invest in our local plants, which we have done. So are you planning to jerk the rug right out from underneath us, or are you going to let it expire in 2022 like it should, and then stand on its own? And corn ethanol does not get any subsidies. Steve King, you know that.
CRUZ: Maggie, you rightly noted that the RFS is scheduled to expire in 2022. When I said we should phase it out, I said it should be a five-year phaseout–a phaseout from 2017 to 2022, is five years. I do believe there should be a gradual phaseout, because there have been investment-backed expectations. But let me tell you: look, the lobbyists are trying the best they can to snooker the people of Iowa, and convince the people of Iowa that a government mandate is the only way for ethanol to survive. Look, the problem is, the government is blocking ethanol. And they’re trying to convince you that a mandate is the way to go. I don’t want Iowa dependent on Washington. I don’t think Iowa farmers want to be dependent on Washington. Because you know what that boils down to? That boils down to a bunch of politicians shaking the voters down over and over and over again. It’s the Washington Cartel. And what I want to do is remove the barriers and allow the farmers and ethanol producers in Iowa in the marketplace to expand their penetration. And as you rightly noted, there have been no more ferocious defender of Iowa farmers than Steve King and there’s a reason Steve is standing with me in this campaign. Because he understands that I believe passionately in a free and fair and open energy marketplace.
In other words, he has always said he was for a five-year phaseout of a mandate, and wants to remove any government-imposed restrictions on ethanol (or any energy source) competing in the open market. Sounds reasonable enough.
And what’s more, that is what he has said since 2014. Amanda Carpenter pointed this out on Twitter:
You can read all about Cruz's 2014, repeat 2014 bill, to phrase out RFS over 5 yrs here. It's point #3 https://t.co/1nRRho9Dra
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) January 6, 2016
And indeed, if you go to the relevant March 27, 2014 press release from Senator Cruz, it contains the following proposal:
Phase out and repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) over five years. The RFS has proven unworkable and costly. Its mandate that an increasing percentage of renewable biofuels be blended into gasoline and diesel each year ignores the reality there are insufficient amounts of some biofuels to meet the standard. It imposes significant costs, and offers few, if any, benefits. The RFS should be phased out so producers and refiners can focus on maximizing domestic resource potential.
So in 2014, Cruz supported a phase out of the RFS over five years. But now that he has to pander to Iowa voters, all of a sudden he supports a phaseout of the RFS over five years. Well, no wonder Jazz Shaw accuses him of a “cave” on ethanol!
The idiocy continues as Shaw breathlessly gasps:
And it wasn’t just the RFS. Oh no! Ted came out with a promise to break the blendwall. Limiting the total blending of ethanol to 10% is the only thing keeping the flood gates partially shut on this mess as it is. What are you talking about Senator Cruz?
The “blend wall” is an artificial governmentally imposed limitation on the percentage of ethanol in gasoline. As Cruz explained in a quote from the America’s Renewable Future post:
That blendwall makes it illegal for ethanol to expand its market penetration, and I intend to eliminate the EPA blendwall to get rid of that barrier, which will enable ethanol to expand in the marketplace to a much larger penetration to sell more ethanol….
But as long as government is not mandating ethanol blends, there is no reason that government needs to set an artificial limit on the percentage of ethanol comprising a fuel. If cars can be designed that run on 100% ethanol (and that is technologically possible) then let it compete in the market. That is all Cruz is saying. (And, by the way, it is not the type of thing that a politician would say if they were in the pocket of Big Oil, as Cruz’s critics claim he is.)
Shaw is hopelessly confusing government mandates with market possibilities. It is one thing to say “government should not mandate any amount of ethanol in gasoline, and if it does let’s stop it at 10%” and quite another to say “government should not limit the amount of ethanol to 10%.”
“Limit” is not the same word as “mandate.” It is not even close to the same word.
Shaw then says:
At first I thought such a stark reversal of the Senator’s previous position on the RFS might be a mistake. But just to make sure I’d gotten the message, Cruz penned an editorial for the des [sic] Moines Register further clarifying his position.
Of course we have seen that the “stark reversal” is anything but. Worse, this becomes painfully even more evident when you actually read Cruz’s op-ed — or even just the part that Shaw quotes:
By this point in the campaign, many readers will have seen the furious coordinated effort being waged by Democrats and big-money lobbyists, who are together spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to convince Iowans that I oppose ethanol. Their charges are utter nonsense.
One of the reasons that Iowa’s own Rep. Steve King — a ferocious advocate for Iowa farmers — is enthusiastically supporting my campaign is because, although I oppose government subsidies, I am a passionate supporter of a free and fair energy marketplace…
The lobbyists’ sole focus is on the RFS, because as long as there is a federal government mandate, Washington remains front and center. Under a Cruz administration, that would change.
I tried to simplify this on Twitter:
Public Service Announcement #1: Saying you support x does not mean you support government doing, or subsidizing, x.
— Patterico (@Patterico) January 7, 2016
Public Service Announcement #2: Saying you oppose government doing, or subsidizing, y…does not mean you oppose y.
— Patterico (@Patterico) January 7, 2016
Shaw’s logic is the same sort of pablum we routinely hear from brainless leftists: if we oppose the government doing x (feeding people) then we oppose x (people being fed). If Cruz opposes subsidies for ethanol than he must oppose ethanol. If Cruz says he supports ethanol competing on the market, that must be a flip-flop! The fallacies here are really easy enough for a fifth-grader to understand.
Amid an explosion of verbal diarrhea Shaw squirts out this:
So Ted wants to just “extend” the RFS to 2022, eh?
No, you can’t “extend” something that was already set to last until at least 2022. It’s almost as if Shaw has absolutely no clue what the law is, what Cruz’s position is, what the op-ed says, or what Cruz has said on the campaign trail.
I could go on and on fisking this thing, but I am already frustrated to no end, and Shaw says nothing else that isn’t already refuted by the logic above. There’s only one more point to add: when he got eviscerated on Twitter for his absurd post, he issues an “update” which acknowledges none of the distortions of the main post, and essentially criticizes Cruz for saying
the E10 blend mandate should be removed, not just because mandates are bad, but because ethanol can be problematic, and so people could easily get ethanol free gas if they wanted it.
Both the bold and the italics are Shaw’s. Shaw doesn’t understand that you can argue against a mandate by saying that ethanol can be problematic for current automobiles, and yet argue that ethanol sold on the free market could be popular and effective, if engines are built to accommodate them. Again, mandates are different from the market. In the latter, people are free to choose and to innovate. In the former, they are not. Opposition to the former does not require opposition to the latter.
The enemy here is not ethanol per se, but government mandates and restrictions — whether for or against ethanol. This has nothing whatsoever to do with a particular fuel additive, and everything to do with the operation of a free market.
But Shaw’s wretched understanding of the importance of the marketplace is a secondary consideration. What continues to gall me is that at Hot Air — still my favorite blog and a wildly influential site — there continues to be a headline that says “Ted Cruz just caved on ethanol.” That headline is a misrepresentation, and its continued existence is the result of pride and pigheadedness. What’s more, Shaw’s “update” in which he pretends to have accurately represented Cruz’s position all along (“I already noted in the original article here that Cruz was talking about a five year sunset”) fails to acknowledge that Cruz’s position in 2014 was the exact same position he takes today. Shaw tries to defend his “STARK REVERSAL!!!!” freakout by asserting that at CPAC, Cruz talked about a “repeal” and not a “phase out” which are TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!!!!!1!!1! Even if it’s true that at CPAC Cruz did not use the term “phase out” — and I don’t trust Jazz Shaw to have grasped the subtleties, and to have accurately reported Cruz’s statements — this is just not a “stark reversal.” If you talk about getting rid of a very popular program immediately or phasing it by dropping the mandated level by 20% each year over five years (which is Cruz’s proposal) — it’s essentially the same thing.
It’s a bold proposal and a courageous stance to take in Iowa. And it’s no different from what Cruz has been saying for almost two years.
Many people have acknowledged this, even after they initially got fooled by the crowing of the lobbyists. For example, Gabriel Malor initially said:
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) January 6, 2016
and (due to my rage over the Shaw post) I was kind of a jerk to him, not realizing that he had already corrected himself:
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) January 7, 2016
Similarly, Tim Carney initially said:
— Tim Carney (@TPCarney) January 6, 2016
but then corrected himself:
Earlier, I basically accused Cruz of flip-flopping on ethanol. After further review, I think I was wrong: https://t.co/G1QKIaXNiT
— Tim Carney (@TPCarney) January 6, 2016
I’m not happy that these people fell for the lobbyists’ spin, but I’m glad they had the intellectual honesty and courage to admit they were wrong.
Shaw needs to do the same. He needs to correct that misleading headline and retract his post in its entirety.
It’s time for Jazz Shaw to admit that he was a chump sucker.