Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Cincinnati Enquirer's editorial board on Thursday that he doesn't know if climate change is a real problem because he's "not a scientist" and that he's more interested in producing cheap energy than worrying about it. [...] When asked what it would take to convince him that climate change is a problem, he demurred and said, "I'm not a scientist, I am interested in protecting Kentucky's economy, I'm interested in having low cost electricity."
This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.
If this sounds familiar, there's a good reason for that. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, was recently asked how old he thinks the planet is. "I'm not a scientist, man," he replied. Gov. Rick Scott (R) was asked what he intended to do about the climate crisis threatening Florida. "I'm not a scientist," he responded.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about the climate deniers in his conference. "I'm not qualified to debate the science," he replied. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) whether he accepts evolutionary biology, to which he responded, "The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist."
Let's go ahead and state the obvious: the repetition of the rhetoric is not an accident. Pollsters and consultants have no doubt told GOP officials that it doesn't sound good when Republicans express open contempt for science, so the way to get out of any question that involves science is to dodge through ignorance: "I'm not a scientist."
And if I'm looking at this in a half-glass-full sort of way, maybe McConnell's foolish answer is preferable to him saying, "Climate science is part of a communist conspiracy to destroy capitalism and James Inhofe is right about global cooling being the real problem."
But the fact remains that there's something alarming, and arguably even offensive, about the posture adopted by McConnell and his brethren.
As we talked about a month ago, the fact remains that one need not be a scientist to have rudimentary beliefs about the world around us. One need not be a geologist to believe in plate tectonics. One need not be a physicist to believe electromagnetism is real. One need not be a medical doctor to have some basic sense of what's good and bad for people's health.
And one need not be a scientist to know that global warming is real.
The question isn't whether politicians are scientists; the question is whether politicians are prepared to believe scientists.
Rebecca Leber flagged a great quote from President Obama in June: "I mean, I'm not a scientist either, but I've got this guy, John Holdren, he's a scientist. I've got a bunch of scientists at NASA and I've got a bunch of scientists at EPA. I'm not a doctor either, but if a bunch of doctors tell me that tobacco can cause lung cancer then I'll say, 'OK!' It's not that hard. I'm not a scientist, but I read the science."
Well, at least someone in politics does.
But we can go further. As Norm Ornstein added this afternoon, "Note to reporters: when Mitch McConnell talks about Iraq, ask if he is a general. When he talks about Obamacare, ask if he is a doctor."
Indeed, one of the more ridiculous aspects of the Republicans' lazy response is that it quickly becomes the ultimate cop out, to be used in response to any inconvenient question. Do you believe the deficit will go down if we cut taxes again for the wealthy? "I'm not a mathematician." Do you believe the troops are receiving quality care through VA facilities? "I'm not a veteran." Did you support the congressional agriculture bill? "I'm not a farmer." How about net neutrality? "I'm not a computer scientist." How will the Supreme Court rule on reproductive rights? "I'm not a judge."
Of course, Republicans routinely have opinions to share in response to these and related questions, but they choose the cop out when it comes to climate change. It suggests McConnell and his cohorts (a) know climate science is real, but they're afraid of their party's far-right base; (b) they reject climate science, but they're afraid to say so because they may look like a loon; or (c) they recognize the climate crisis, but just don't have the courage to work on a solution.
Regardless, this "I'm not a scientist" posture is unsustainable.