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The Sciences

Good on Mitt Romney: Taking a Round-Earth Position on Climate Science

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By Jon Winsor On the day after his announcement of his candidacy in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney made an encouraging statement on climate science:

"I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire."It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors."

It's a qualified statement ("may be significant contributors"?), but we'll take it--while also noting that many of his statements hedge a good deal more, for instance, "there have been numerous times in the earth’s history when temperatures have been warmer than they are now." This is a statement of fact, but it's a red herring. But Romney's affirming climate science, even to this extent, still endangers him as a candidate. As the National Journal writes: "Romney's acknowledgment of man-made climate change is likely to stoke skepticism among conservatives who view him as too moderate. The view that humans are contributing to climate change is a highly controversial position within the GOP, with most conservatives fiercely disputing the notion that Earth is warming at all." Mitt Romney has always been an awkward national Republican candidate. A former governor of a tech-centered, educated state like Massachusetts, going national with this kind of record poses problems. He alternately has to pose like a culture warrior, explain his moderate record, and articulate policy positions that are, well, probably drafted by the types he worked with in Massachusetts. How does he do it all and look authentic? These dynamics apparently contributed to actual animosity on the campaign trail by other Republicans and their staff in 2008. (Bonus: The New Hampshire Democratic Party is selling a T-shirt parodying Romney's policy positions.) Despite all this, though, why should it be this hard for a candidate to simply affirm mainstream science? A good part of the answer is in the "battle of ideas" that happened since the 2008 campaign. In the ruins of the 2008 GOP loss, Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson reflected on his party's situation:

The issues that have provided conservatives with victories in the past -- particularly welfare and crime -- have been rendered irrelevant by success... The issues of the moment -- income stagnation, climate disruption, massive demographic shifts and health care access -- seem strange, unexplored land for many in the movement." In a later interview on NPR: "It is going to take someone to come and give the Republican Party a new approach and populist message."

The GOP did get a "new populism," but not the kind Gerson looked forward to. The populism that beat out Gerson's populism turned out to be what fellow Bush speechwriter David Frum called the "say it louder" variety-- which doesn't involve listening to scientists. Mitt Romney is bucking that populism, at least in this case--for which he deserves credit. But right on cue, Sarah Palin rolls into town, highlighting the uphill battle Romney faces in attempting to offer reality-based Republican policy...

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