Michael Stafford, 8/22/2011 [Archive]

Huntsman Comes Out of the Closet on Science

Huntsman Comes Out of the Closet on Science

By Michael Stafford

Last week, Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman boldly came out of the science closet and threw down the gauntlet to the anti-intellectual forces in today's GOP with a tweet heard 'round the world: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Undoubtedly, many voices on the radical right will call Huntsman crazy, despite the fact that he has merely articulated mainstream views shared by most educated American adults.By daring to speak up about both climate change and evolution, Huntsman is antagonizing two groups that dominate the radical right- the ideological libertarians, and the religious extremists.Essentially, he's taking on both the Big Oil-funded climate denial industry and the zealots running the Creation Museum.

Not wanting to be left out, I immediately issued my own "coming out" Twitter declaration:"To be clear. I believe in plate tectonics and trust astronomers on the heliocentric solar system." Needless to say, mine didn't make as much of a national stir.

Other Republican leaders are stepping out of the science closet as well.Take New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie for example.Despite withdrawing his state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI), Governor Christie has steadfastly refused to pander to the climate deniers in the GOP.Last Friday, according to The Star-Ledger, he made his most clear and unambiguous statement yet on the subject: "Climate change is real... Human activity plays a role in these changes, and it is impacting our state." Gov. Christie went on to explain that, although the science supporting anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is complex and difficult for a lay person to fully understand, "when you have over 90 percent of the world's scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it's time to defer to the experts."

Sadly, for far too many on the right, the climate "experts" are conservative radio and television entertainers, not actual scientists.Former South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis summed this aspect up best when he observed:"There are people who make a lot of money on talk radio and talk TV saying a lot of things. They slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night, and they're experts on climate change. They substitute their judgment for people who have Ph.D.s and work tirelessly [on AGW]."

The radical right's embrace of climate denial is on full display in the presidential campaign. Governor Rick Perry, for example, has called AGW, "one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight," while Rep. Michele Bachmann has referred to it as "manufactured science."

Many of Huntsman's opponents also seem to need remedial tutoring on the origin of species.Gov. Perry has recently referred to evolution as "a theory that is out there" with "some gaps in it"- meaning, I presume, that its validity is subject to some sort of legitimate debate.And Perry isn't alone- both Bachmann and Rep. Ron Paul have evidenced their own evolutionary skepticism in prior statements.At the same time, Sarah Palin, who is not officially in the hunt for the nomination but whose potential presence casts a long shadow over the field, made her own creationist views known in her book Going Rogue, writing that she "didn't believe in the theory that human beings —thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea" and "monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees."

Make no mistake about it, the stakes for the Republican Party here are incredibly high. Today, by rejecting science, the GOP runs the risk of becoming the political home of everybody that has some sort of beef with modernity.While a candidate's stance on AGW and evolution may not be top priorities for many voters this election cycle, both issues speak directly to the growing anti-intellectualism and ideological rigidity taking root within the GOP.And that is toxic to the long-term health of the party.As Huntsman correctly observed in a subsequent interview with ABC News on Sunday, "[t]he minute that the Republican Party becomes ... the anti-science party, we have a huge problem..."

Huntsman has shown he's willing to confront the anti-intellectualism of the radical right.Hopefully, his example will inspire more Republican leaders to summon the courage to come out of the science closet.The alternative, frankly, is political irrelevance.

©Copyright 2011 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of "An Upward Calling." Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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