Tag Archives: 2024 election

Gas stoves, freedom, and the politics of distraction

Don’t worry about your Social Security, medical care, or bodily autonomy.
Instead, focus your attention on gas stoves, light bulbs, X-boxes, M&Ms,
and the Democrats’ quest to achieve “Soviet America”.

After narrowly winning a House majority by running against inflation and crime (and paying the price whenever they ran a candidate focused on election denial and other MAGA issues), the GOP has begun laying out its agenda for the 118th Congress: not inflation and crime. Instead, it’s gearing up to force a debt-ceiling crisis in order to extort long-term cuts in Social Security and Medicare out of President Biden and Senate Democrats. In addition, it’s getting revenge on Democrats and on government officials who investigated the crimes of President Trump.

When a party defies public opinion like this, they need to wave around a lot of shiny objects to keep their voters distracted.

Cooking with gas. This month’s shiniest object has been: Democrats are coming for your gas stove!

Gas stoves do cause some problems. They’ve been linked to increased incidence of asthma, especially in children. (This conclusion is debatable, but I believe it because I started noticing some mild bronchial irritation after I moved to an apartment with a gas stove — which I otherwise like. So for the last few months I’ve been wearing a mask when I cook, running the exhaust fan at higher levels, and making smaller dishes in the electric toaster oven. It seems to help.)

And then there’s climate change. Long term, the best plan for minimizing carbon emissions is to electrify everything and then generate as much electricity as possible without burning fossil fuels. Fortunately, new induction cooktops and ranges have a lot of advantages, so switching from gas to electric doesn’t have to be a hardship. (That said, while I might try out a portable induction burner, I’m not buying new stove any time soon. The path of least resistance is to make do with what’s already here.)

In short, there are good long-term reasons for America as a whole to shift away from gas stoves. But are the Kitchen Police coming to rip your (or my) gas stove out of the wall? No. No one has even been proposing that they should.

What really happened. January 9, in an interview with Bloomberg News (behind a paywall), Richard Trumka Jr, who is one of the commissioners on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, noted the hazards associated with gas stoves and suggested strengthening safety regulations on new stoves.

This is not a new or strange idea. In December, a letter 20 Democratic members of Congress wrote to the CPSC suggested several such regulations, such as mandating range hoods with exhaust fans, and tightening standards on methane leakage when the stove is off. Notably, they did not suggest a ban.

In his Bloomberg interview, Trumka considered the possibility that if yet-to-be-done research proves that yet-to-be-written safety regulations are insufficient, new gas stoves could be taken off the market: “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” In a responsible article, a statement like would be qualified by noting where the CPSC is in its process. Back in December Trumka said CPSC was about to start looking at gas-stove regulations.

Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said during a virtual webinar on Wednesday that the commission will put out a formal request by March for information on hazards associated with gas stoves and possible solutions. 

“This public request for information is the first step in what could be a long journey toward regulating gas stoves,” he said. 

But instead of providing that context, Bloomberg chose to ignore the “long journey” to regulation and headlined the January interview as “US Safety Agency to Consider Ban on Gas Stoves Amid Health Fears“. The next day NBC went with “Ban new gas stoves, a federal safety commissioner proposes“, and the game of telephone was on. By that evening, Fox News was summarizing like this:

News that the Biden administration may soon ban gas stoves set off Twitter on Monday.

Manufacturing outrage. Republican politicians were quick to jump into the telephone game. Remember: These aren’t just random internet trolls. These are public officials with staff that could fact-check things if their bosses wanted them to.

“Don’t tread on Florida, and don’t mess with gas stoves!” tweeted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week in response to comments from a member of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that a ban might one day be possible given health concerns about the stoves.“God. Guns. Gas stoves,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) listed banning gas stoves as being among policies that he described as “Democrat authoritarian impulses.”

Texas Congressman Ronny Jackson (you remember, the guy who was known around the White House as “the candy man” when he was President Trump’s doctor) saw DeSantis’ Gadsden flag reference and raised him a molon labe.

I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!

And because its viewers presumably weren’t steamed enough yet, Fox informed them that stoves are just the beginning.

“There’s bad news for almost every room in the house,” Ben Lieberman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Fox News Digital in an interview. … “If advanced appliances make sense for consumers, they would sell themselves without mandates,” Lieberman told Fox News Digital. “I think that’s a good rule of thumb with very, very few exceptions.

That’s because the broader interests of society never conflict with motives on the individual level, at least in the conservative fantasyland.

Then someone found a 2020 photo of Jill Biden sauteing spinach over a gas stove. Hypocrisy! (Because the Bidens should have remodeled their kitchen in anticipation of CPSC starting to look into regulating new gas stoves 2 1/2 years later.)

The Washington Free Beacon then found eight additional Democrats who have “used a kitchen appliance they want to ban you from owning”. (When they get to John Fetterman, they note that “Exposure to carbon monoxide can put otherwise healthy adults at an increased risk of stroke”. So, you know, he had it coming.)

“Rules for me but not for thee,” Ted Cruz tweeted. He probably cribbed that line from Ron DeSantis’ communications aide Christina Pushaw, who had tweeted the same photo a few hours earlier:

Biden will ban gas stoves for normal people. Not for elites. This is Soviet America: Rules for thee, not for me.

So this is how far ahead of the facts Republicans got: Still unformulated safety regulations for new gas stoves became a looming ban on all gas stoves (plus other appliances), which will be implemented unfairly. Because — you know — Democrats are like that.

Setting the record straight is “caving”. Biden administration officials (including Biden himself) then clarified: There isn’t (and never was) a proposal to ban gas stoves. The CSPC chair issued a statement denying a ban was in the works and reiterating the timetable for starting the regulatory process:

Research indicates that emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous, and the CPSC is looking for ways to reduce related indoor air quality hazards. But to be clear, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so. … [L]ater this spring, we will be asking the public to provide us with information about gas stove emissions and potential solutions for reducing any associated risks. 

In typical fashion, Fox News could not possibly admit that it had gotten its viewers outraged about nothing, so instead it framed the clarification by saying that the Biden administration had “reversed course” and “caved” to public outrage.

It’s kind of like when dogs bark at passing cars, and then feel good about themselves for chasing the cars away.

Subsequent outrages. You know what else conservatives are upset about? X-boxes. Microsoft is making them “the first carbon-aware consoles“, via software updates that would allow users to schedule future updates at times when the most sustainable electricity is available, or to change settings to use less energy in general. Fox News Radio host Jimmy Failla explained Microsoft’s sinister motive:

We understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay—the level of reduction is infinitesimal. But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.

And Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt agreed. “You’re right. They’re going after the children.”

But it isn’t all outrage at Fox. There is at least some cause for celebration: Tucker Carlson has won his war against the M&M spokescandies. The Mars Wrigley Corporation announced its surrender last Monday.

The freedom narrative. The Hill explains the larger Republican strategy:

“It’s your stove, it’s your lightbulb, and those are consumer issues and economic issues, they’re also culture war issues,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye, referring to another flashpoint in incandescent versus LED bulbs. 

“It’s part of how Republicans feel that Democrats are targeting parts of Americans’ everyday lives,” Heye added. …

This is not the first time that Republicans have sought to attack Democrats on policies related to household items. During his rallies, then-President Trump railed against showers and toilets that did not have enough water pressure, as well as against energy-efficient light bulbs.  Some have gone even further, claiming that the administration is coming after red meat, which the administration described as a “fabrication.” …

[Republican strategist Keith Naughton] said he doesn’t think any individual issue is “Earth-shaking,” but pieced together they can form a larger narrative, namely that Democrats are “never going to stop until there’s somebody in your home monitoring everything you do.”

But Amanda Marcotte points out that the freedom/control narrative may work better if you reverse the parties.

Republicans do face a real conundrum. On one hand, conservatism is fundamentally a puritanical ideology. On the other hand, being a bunch of joy-killers tends to be unpopular. So they’re always looking for chances to flip the script, to pretend that it’s the left that is out to destroy your good time. So we get these fake culture war controversies in which the right pretends to be under assault by a “nanny state.”

Of course, when you look past all the hand-waving about “freedom,” it becomes clear that very little of what they wish to protect is actually fun at all. Indoor smoking, being a Nazi on Twitter, and dying of COVID-19 because you wouldn’t get vaccinated are all technically freedoms, but only in the most pathetic sense. They don’t resemble the actual freedoms most people want, such as the right to read what you want or have sex the way you like, which are under assault from Republicans.

So if you want your child to get advanced-placement credit in African-American studies, too bad for you: The content of the course violates the official ideology of Commissar DeSantis, so the “Free State of Florida” won’t allow it. Ditto for wanting to encourage your kid to read: In order to comply with new state laws, Manatee County has ordered teachers to remove all books from their classrooms until they can be “vetted” for compliance. (Compliance doesn’t sound like a freedom-word to me.) Because, as we all know, unvetted books are dangerous. Better ten children should grow up illiterate than one child read about the existence of gay people, or that Black people have not always been treated well in America. And if you’re a corporation or baseball team that wants to take a position contrary to the DeSantis regime, well, you better watch out.

In another free state, Oklahoma, you are free to run over protesters with your car, but if you want to be free to protest without getting run over, that’s dicier. (The law says nobody can run over you intentionally, but in practice intent is hard to prove.)

No state has yet criminalized crossing state lines to get an abortion, but

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization, is drafting model legislation for state lawmakers that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident of a state that has banned abortion from terminating a pregnancy outside of that state. The draft language will borrow from the novel legal strategy behind a Texas abortion ban enacted last year in which private citizens were empowered to enforce the law through civil litigation.

Last summer Republicans filibustered a bill that would protect the right to travel for an abortion. And as for whether you can receive abortion-inducing drugs by mail, that still needs to be worked out in court. It hangs on interpreting the Comstock Act of 1873, which no court has looked at since 1973, when the Roe decision made it irrelevant. But since Dobbs overturned Roe, it’s relevant again.

If you want to own weapons of war and carry them with you to the supermarket, Republicans will protect your freedom (at least if you’re White). But if you would rather walk freely through large crowds without worrying about snipers, you should probably be a Democrat.

In short, which party represents “freedom” to you very much depends on the kinds of things you want to do.

The debunking dilemma. When the point of raising an issue is distraction, it’s hard to know how to respond. If you take time to debunk the nonsense (as I just did and tempted you into spending time on), aren’t you just taking the bait?

It’s a conundrum. President Trump may have been a dim bulb in a lot of ways, but he was brilliant at manipulating public attention. One of his favorite tricks, whenever the news cycle was turning against him, was to pick a fight with some Black celebrity like LeBron James. (Legendary NBA coach Gregg Popovich was actually a much more outspoken Trump critic. But he’s White, so arguing with him wouldn’t serve Trump’s purposes.) The more outrageous and/or racist he got, the better at seizing attention and directing it back to the Trump-against-uppity-Black-people frame that plays well to his base.

Ron DeSantis’s AP African American Studies ban is basically the same trick. It puts him back in the headlines and fills the airwaves with Black people criticizing him. In some sense it barely matters that he deserves the criticism: Arguing with Black (or gay or trans) people is a good look for him as he seeks the Republican nomination in 2024.

So how do you cover that? Call attention to it, which DeSantis wants, or ignore it and let an injustice pass without comment?

My compromise, as you can deduce from this post, is to dip into these dark wells occasionally without letting them dominate my attention. And when I do, I try not to lose sight of what I’m being distracted from.