As the GOP candidates jockey their way toward the presidential nomination, they continue to create new litmus tests for what makes a worthy pick. The top contenders have to loathe government. They have to hate health care reform. And most deny the reality of climate change.
Most of these benchmarks have their roots in ideological battles but that last one is different. It requires candidates to forgo reality as they disavow scientific evidence.
I wonder how they choose which science to accept and which to ignore. Is it alright to acknowledge that gravity exists and cigarettes cause cancer, but not okay to concede that man made climate change is making the Arctic is melt and extreme weather events are becoming the norm? When do you cross the line? When does the crazy start? Most importantly, should ignoring science disqualify you from being president?
Having a president who willfully disregards the scientific evidence of a looming threat is not in our national interest, to put it mildly. I don't think President Reagan would have gotten elected if he'd said he didn't trust the data showing the Soviet Union had an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons. We don't need leaders who close their eyes to the facts.
But in this race, it's not about the facts; it's about speaking to the Tea Party crowd. And denying climate change offers candidates an irresistible trifecta. It allows them to belittle the science geeks and eggheads who might think they are smarter than ordinary folks. It gives them a chance to talk about government regulations -- in the form of limits on carbon emissions -- which gets their base all riled up. And it helps them keep the campaign donations from oil and coal companies rolling in.
Siding with the 3 percent of scientists who question climate change may play well with a small minority of hard-right voters, but it doesn't serve the rest of us. There has always been a place in American society for the fringe dwellers -- the religious zealots and the conspiracy theorists and the committed Luddites. But that place is not in the White House. Living in denial in the face of evidence isn't a sign of leadership -- it is a sign of delusion and it should disqualify you for serving as president.
There is also a healthy tradition of skepticism in America, but skepticism is not an excuse for inaction. It should be the beginning of a quest to find answers. If Representative Michele Bachman doubts the existence of climate change, she should travel to the Arctic in the company of researchers. If Governor Perry doubts that the globe is warming, he should walk the scarred plains of Texas with those who have studied the links between climate change, more frequent droughts, and intensified wildfires.
The fact that they don't journey to find the answers tells me they aren't skeptics at all: they are just closed-minded. They don't want to pursue new information or collect the facts on the ground. They want to stay within the confines of Tea Party ideology.
Casting doubt in and of itself shouldn't disqualify you from becoming the president of the United States. But willfully rejecting the facts, when the consequences of doing so will be devastating, should.
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