Coral Davenport wrote an eye-opening piece
for the New York Times last week about one of the most puzzling recent refrains from Republican politicians. Why, when asked about climate change, has nearly every key Republican started responding, “I’m not a scientist”?
The piece includes quotes from Republican strategists and lobbyists highlighting just how ridiculous this response really is:
“It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who has advised House Republicans and conservative political advocacy groups on energy and climate change messaging. “Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything. Most politicians aren’t scientists, but they vote on science policy. They have opinions on Ebola, but they’re not epidemiologists. They shape highway and infrastructure laws, but they’re not engineers.”
So why do Republicans continue to default to that line, when everyone seems to agree that it’s an idiotic one? Two words: Koch brothers. Here’s how the Times explains it:
For now, “I’m not a scientist” is what one party adviser calls “a temporary Band-Aid” — a way to avoid being called a climate change denier but also to sidestep a dilemma. The reality of campaigning is that a politician who acknowledges that burning coal and oil contributes to global warming must offer a solution, which most policy experts say should be taxing or regulating carbon pollution and increasing government spending on alternative energy. But those ideas are anathema to influential conservative donors like the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and the advocacy group they support, Americans for Prosperity.
And then Americans For Prosperity’s President, Tim Phillips, parses no words in laying out how they AFP would react to a Republican who was willing to work to address climate change: “They would be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process. …We would absolutely make that a crucial issue.”
This is the clearest example yet of the complete stranglehold the Koch brothers have over today’s Republican Party. There is no scientific debate that climate change is real and that human beings are contributing to it. Experts agree that we should take action immediately. Public polling indicates that there is very broad support for taking these actions.
And still, GOP candidates just keep saying, “I’m not a scientist,” because they know the climate-denial-funding, self-serving, oil-made billionaire Koch brothers will spend millions to crush their political careers if they stand up and support commonsense actions.
Needless to say, this is a dangerous reality — one in which the GOP policy agenda is determined not by elected officials concerned about the well-being of their constituents, but by billionaires concerned about the well-being of their bank accounts.