By Jon Winsor Last week, we reported on Mitt Romney taking a "round-Earth position on climate change." Not surprisingly, for certain people, Romney had done the unthinkable: (Of course, Rush has opposed nominees who've won the nomination before--for instance, John McCain last year.) Later, Romney's questioner actually called in to Limbaugh's show, and did an admirable job:
CALLER: ...First of all, I wanted to specify the difference between policy and science... And I specifically quoted from a 2010 National Academy of Sciences report, and two quotes here. The first is, they concluded -- and, by the way, the National Academy of Sciences, as you know, is considered the Supreme Court of science in this country. It was founded in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, and it's charged with giving the Congress unbiased scientific information. Now, their conclusion was, quote, "A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems." RUSH: Then they've lost all credibility. It's a bogus claim. CALLER: Let me go on. They then went on to say, "Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found wrong is vanishingly small. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities. And then I asked my question, so that's the context of the question. Your response was that there was evidence even in the last year that established this whole premise of manmade global warming is a hoax. RUSH: Right. CALLER: I don't know where you're getting the hoax from, sir. I mean I'm looking at -- RUSH: It's called the University of East Anglia in England and the Hadley Climate Center where they basically made it all up, pure and simple. It's a hoax. There's nothing true about it. END TRANSCRIPT
That shouldn't have been the end of the conversation. Every official inquiry that has been made into "Climategate" has exonerated the participants. But it's Limbaugh's mike, right? He can go to a commercial and end the conversation whenever he likes. After the 2008 election, pollster Nate Silver reflected on a heated on-air conversation he had with a radio talk show host over what should have been a simple matter:
Almost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. (If they weren't doing something else, they'd be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what [David Foster] Wallace refers to as the importance of "stimulating" the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.
Rush Limbaugh is what he says he is, an entertainer. But he's an entertainer that a lot of people listen to, especially people who go to Republican presidential primaries and vote----for or against people like Mitt Romney. So the question becomes, basically, should people vote based on what Rush tells them as he tries to fill the airwaves with exciting content? Or, as the caller points out, should things be based on what dozens of worldwide scientific organizations have concluded, with no dissenters? On the subject of entertainers as policymakers, David Frum put things in a thought-provoking way in an interview last year (he was talking about Fox, but I think what he was saying still applies here):
Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.