Saturday, February 16, 2013

Insane Or Otherwise

Saying “government can’t control the weather” sounds plausible enough," Jonathan Chait writes, and is "a way to take a position that doesn’t sound completely insane to audiences but is, in fact, completely insane. In this way, it is the quintessential Marco Rubio utterance."   Tuesday, Rubio uttered

There are valid reasons to be concerned about the President's plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the President's agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.

When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can't control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.

I don't know what Rubio means when he accuses Obama of "accus(ing) us of wanting dirty water and dirty air."   (Neither do most Republicans- but it feels good.)   Even before hearing the President's message live, Rubio probably had seen a copy of the SOTU* message and noted Obama's vicious, partisan attack: "But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change."

In claiming the President "and his allies" usually respond to criticism by "falsely attacking their motives," Rubio follows the script described by Thomas Frank:

Conservatism, on the other hand, is the doctrine of the oppressed majority. Conservatism does not defend some established order of things: It accuses; its rants; it points out hypocrisies and gleefully pounces on contradictions. While liberals use their control of the airwaves, newspapers, and schools to persecute average Americans — to ridicule the pious, flatter the shiftless, and indoctrinate the kids with all sorts of permissive nonsense — the Republicans are the party of the disrespected, the downtrodden, the forgotten. They are always the underdog, always in rebellion against a haughty establishment, always rising up from below.

All claims of the right, in other words, advance from victimhood. This is another trick the backlash has picked up from the left. Even though republicans legislate in the interests of society’s most powerful, and even though conservative social critics typically enjoy cushy sinecures at places like the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal, they rarely claim to speak on behalf of the wealthy of the winners in the social Darwinist struggle. Just like the leftists of the early twentieth century, they see themselves in revolt against a genteel tradition, rising up against a bankrupt establishment that will tolerate no backtalk.

And so it is that Rubio carries water for his corporate benefactors (Obama generally eschews attacking motives; myself, not so much) and makes what Chait identifies that "completely insane" statement, "government can't control the weather."

Although neither government nor anyone else can control the weather, the weather can be influenced, imperfectly, such as by cloud-seeding.  Still, no one claims the power to have a tremendous influence on weather, which is less susceptible to modification than is climate.  But now we begin to understand the Republican idea of American exceptionalism circa 2013: change our lifestyle slightly to save the planet- can't be done!

The fairly uncomplicated chain of events which Chait realizes the Senator "is capable of grasping" is merely

1. The government has a bunch of rules that control how much coal, oil, and whatnot gets burned.
2. The more greenhouse gasses we burn, the warmer the climate gets. It’s science.
3. The warmer the climate gets, the more frequently we have extreme weather events. This is also science.

Chait argues that Rubio is choosing not to deny that burning greenhouse gases results in a warmer climate but

Denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change remains as firmly ensconced as ever in the Republican liturgy.  But the party's reputation for scientific ignorance has proven to be at least a slight embarrassment among general election audiences...

So what’s going on here is that Rubio wants to uphold the Republican position without coming across to non-Republicans as a total yahoo. So he is not directly questioning the carbon-climate link, but instead moving his skepticism to the climate-weather link.

Senator Rubio took advantage of the ignorance of many conservatives of the difference between weather and climate.   Consider how often a cold spell (or, worse, snow) is accompanied by a layman (layperson? laywoman? lay?) using the occasion to deny the reality of global warming.  And if he continues to take positions which don't sound completely insane to audiences- but are inaccurate and probably dishonest- we will have Marco Rubio to kick around until at least July, 2016.

*SOTU, POTUS, VPOTUS, FLOTUS: abbreviations are the new jargon of Washington.

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