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Mommy, What’s an Environmentalist?

Not to go all Media Matters on you, but the Washington Post’s lead today strikes me as a bit off-kilter:

In one of the first internal struggles of the incoming Obama administration, environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create “green-collar” jobs.

The debate has centered on two competing principles in the evolving plan: the desire to spend money on what President-elect Barack Obama calls “shovel-ready projects,” such as highway and bridge construction, vs. spending on more environmentally conscious projects, such as grids for wind and solar power.

Lawmakers opposed to the emerging-technology projects accuse their colleagues of using the financial crisis to push through pricey policy proposals that they say would do little to boost the economy in the immediate future.

“If we’re going to call it a stimulus package, it has to be stimulating and has to be stimulating now. I think there are members of our caucus who are trying to create a Christmas tree out of this,” said Rep. Baron P. Hill (Ind.), incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats.

A couple of questions.

Firstly, is it really appropriate to use the somewhat loaded term “environmentalists” to describe people who want greener energy? There are very good economic reasons, and very good national security reasons, to want an alternative to carbon-based fuels. This has very little to do with the save-the-spotted-owls kind of stuff that the term “environmentalists” tends to invoke. It’s a bit like using “feminists” when “women” would do.

Secondly, how is it that it’s these “environmentalists” who are solely responsible for “trying to shift the priorities” of the economic stimulus package? What are they shifting away from? Had the details of the stimulus been worked out when no one was paying attention? And had they forbidden alternative-energy and “green collar” projects, even though Barack Obama had been talking about such things from his first days on the campaign trail?

There are, obviously, a lot of valid points for discussion about how the government ought to spent hundreds of billions of dollars. But the Post seems to want to frame this is latte-sipping, Sierra Club hippies versus hard-workin’, Chevy-drivin’, everyday Amur-i-cuns. If that’s the paradigm through which this gets reported, it’s potentially a pretty damaging one to the Obama administration, and to the cause of energy independence.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.