As usual with my Fin columns, Catallaxy was straight out of the gate with a response yesterday. It was perhaps unsurprising as my piece mentioned climate change, and the Catallaxy crew includes a self-described “prominent scientist”, Alan Moran, a signatory of public letters attacking mainstream climate science.
In Catallaxy terms, however, Moran seems to be the designated hitter for those occasions when I write about the US political scene. Last time out, he was criticising me for “anointing” Romney as the likely winner – he preferred to discuss the bold tax plans of Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Now, he’s upset that I’ve “anointed” Jon Huntsman as the only Republican contender who seemed likely to beat Obama, ruled out because of his heretical (that is, pro-science) views on climate change.
Anyway, the column is over the fold.
Undermined by idiocracy
The issue of climate change is unlikely to play much of a role in the US Presidential election campaign, which will begin in June with the nomination of a Republican candidate to face Barack Obama. It may however, have already decided the outcome, by ensuring that any possible Republican nominee is unelectable.
The Republican position on climate change is often described as ‘sceptical’. In fact, it is a rigid orthodoxy, from which no deviation is tolerated. According to the orthodoxy, mainstream climate science is not just completely wrong, it is a conspiracy in which money-grubbing scientists produce deliberate lies on order to promote higher taxes and, ultimately, a dictatorial world government.
The Wall Street Journal, the most authoritative source of news and opinion for US conservatives, endorses this position in its most extreme conspiracist form. It recently published a letter from 16 self-described scientists attacking climate science and accusing scientists of lying for money. The letter compared mainstream climate scientists to Trofim Lysenko, the pseudo-scientist who controlled Soviet biology under Josef Stalin. It went on to compare the alleged mistreatment of sceptics to Stalin’s use of the gulag to silence dissent.
By contrast, the Journal refused to publish a letter signed by co-signed by 255 scientists and members of the US Academy of Sciences who support mainstream science. On the WSJ view of the world, not only climate scientists but the vast majority of scientists of all kinds, including just about every major scientific organization in the world, are part of the conspiracy.
Unless it turns out that the conspiracy theory is true, this position seems likely to create problems for the WSJ in the future. More immediately, however, it has created big problems for the Republican Party.
The scientific body of evidence supporting the proposition that the global climate is warming, and that human activity is largely responsible, has been building up for several decades. During that time, most long-serving Republican politicians, notably including potential Presidential candidates have, at one time or another, endorsed the mainstream view. They now face the choice of recantation or political death.
The most prominent casualty of the demand for orthodoxy was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. A hardline conservative on nearly all issues, Huntsman insisted on restating his acceptance of the reality of climate change. This was an insult the Republican base could not bear, compounded by his acceptance of an appointment as Ambassador to China from President Obama. Despite spending millions of his own money, Huntsman’s campaign went nowhere. After a poor third place in New Hampshire, he withdrew.
The support that Huntsman might have garnered went instead to Mitt Romney, a former moderate and supporter of science, who has shown himself willing to say whatever it takes to appease the primary voters. The last serious alternative remaining is another flip-flopper, Newt Gingrich. Although Gingrich’s ferocious style appeals to the base, he has an embarrassing history on climate change, having appeared with leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi in a joint appeal for action.
Unlike Huntsman, both Romney and Gingrich come to the campaign with large amounts of embarrassing baggage. Gingrich’s various indiscretions have been known for some time, but the campaign brought out the embarrassing fact that he worked as an advocate for the mortgage company Fannie Mae, which he and other Republicans subsequently demonized as the prime cause of the global financial crisis.
More surprising have been the revelations about Mitt Romney, whose public image was that of a successful, but dull businessman, specialising in corporate turnarounds. Over the last few weeks, that image has been replaced with one of a ruthless corporate raider and aggressive tax avoider, stashing millions in Swiss banks and the Cayman Islands. Even more startling has been a recent attack ad from the Gingrich camp, documenting Romney’s entanglement in a massive Medicare fraud undertaken by a company he took over in the 1980s.
Barring some improbable scenarios involving deadlocked conventions, or the remote prospects of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, one or other of these deeply flawed candidates seems certain to be the Republican nominee. Given his easy win in Florida, Romney is a clear favorite, but that may change when the last Gingrich attack sinks in.
Either way, Barack Obama is now a clear favorite for re-election, although he usually loses in polls where voters are asked to choose between him a ‘generic Republican’. Voters presumably imbue this hypothetical character with attributes such as sanity and at least some minimal level of honesty. But in today’s Republican Party, such attributes mean automatic disqualificatio
fn1. Given the awfulness of Catallaxy’s comments sections, I won’t cross-link. If, like me, you’re sick of Google, DuckDuckGo is your friend.
fn2. Another prominent Australian scientist on the list is Don Aitkin, formerly VC of the University of Canberra. Some might suppose he was playing the ambiguity associated with the fact that he is a retired political “scientist”. In fact, however, in a series of emails we exchanged a few years back, he assured me that he had fully mastered climate science in his spare time.