Nothing left to lose

    If Jon Huntsman keeps standing up for sanity and reality, he is destined to be toast. There’s virtually no way that a candidate with his sensibility can hope to capture the Republican presidential nomination.Maybe he and his strategists actually believe that rationalism can triumph in the end by rallying a sufficiently large number of Republican moderates to the cause. Or maybe he’s just putting all his chips on New Hampshire, where independents are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. Or maybe he’s just trying to build his brand one brick at a time, with his eye on 2016. Or maybe he’s trying to position himself for a ’12 vice-presidential nod, thinking that he’d balance a ticket headed by a conservative. Or maybe he knows he’s toast already, and therefore feeling free to critique his rivals’ flights from reality.Whatever his motive, it was downright bracing to hear him on ABC News yesterday:”The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people that would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position.”Standing up for science…what a concept! That may be anathema among Republican primary voters, many of whom view science as a secularist enemy, but it just so happens that respect for science is endemic among the centrist voters who typically decide presidential elections. (Which, of course, should come as no surprise; respect for science has been a staple of western civilization ever since, oh, the Enlightenment.)Huntsman’s remarks were primarily aimed at Rick Perry – who at times last week sounded as if he wanted to re-litigate the Scopes trial of 1925; and who, at other times, was simply content to make things up at the behest of his corporate benefactors. (Perry: “I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.” Oh, really? Has Perry yet cited a single dissenting scientist? Has the press demanded that Perry prove his claim by producing weekly and daily lists of such scientists?)But Perry is merely the latest manifestation of the GOP’s longstanding faith-based fantasia. The George W. Bush regime was notorious for its incessant assaults on science. It tweaked technical documents for political ends, hired party loyalists for key science jobs for which they had no expertise, and barred government researchers from speaking the truth. The incidents are way too numerous to list here, but my favorite occurred in 2006, when the Bush administration gave a top NASA post to a 24-year-old kid named George Deutsch. His job was to prevent NASA’s top scientists from publicly discussing global warming. His science qualifications were, shall we say, a tad thin. He had worked on Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, and he had attended Texas A & M without graduating.Can Huntsman win over Republicans by rebuking his own party for its anti-science proclivities? Can he actually hope to gain ground by vetting the virtual scientific consensus on global warming, as long endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences (in conjunction with its counterparts in Britain, China, Germany, and Japan), the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the National Climactic Data Center, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than 1000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and 23 faculty members of the Texas A & M Department of Atmospheric Sciences?Nope, because a deep strain of anti-intellectualism runs rampant in the contemporary GOP; a substantial percentage refuses to even believe what we already know, empirically speaking, about the biological roots of our existence. According to an ’08 Gallup poll, 60 percent of grassroots Republicans agree with the statement that “God created humans as is, within the last 10,000 years.” If they believe that, why would they respect the scientists who have charted global warming? Rick Perry hits the party’s sweet spot. Alas, Huntsman’s truth talk won’t get much traction. He said yesterday that, in general, “every time we have these sideshows…it takes us that much further off the ball,” and that his rivals are “not founded in reality,” but these seem like the remarks of a fatalist who has made peace with his modest niche – at least for the short term. Maybe he believes that the tea-party fervor will flame out in the aftermath of a ’12 Republican defeat, that the evangelical reality-deniers will be in eclipse, and that, as a result, he will be well positioned for ’16 as a reality-based Republican brandishing the banner of science. Sounds like a long shot, from every angle. So what the heck, why not go forth to defeat by freely speaking his mind, with his integrity intact? As Janis Joplin famously sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”——-Edward Kennedy would frequently rant and rave on the Senate floor – and then he would cut compromise deals with the Republicans he was ranting against. His legacy now seems dead and buried as we near the one-year anniversary of his departure. I wrote a freelance piece, for Obit magazine, that was posted today. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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