I was reading a story the other day about the Senate race in Kentucky. That's the one where Rhodes College grad Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, is taking on incumbent Republican, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.
In an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, McConnell was asked his views on climate change, and specifically whether he agreed with the overwhelming scientific consensus that it's real. McConnell went straight to the standard line from the GOP playbook on this issue: "I'm not a scientist," he said, deflecting the question.
Well, duh. That's why we have scientists: to tell us the scientific evidence for one thing or another. McConnell is well aware that global climate change is happening. Only a fool could read the hundreds of articles about warmer temperatures world-wide, the loss of our polar ice caps, the rise of sea levels, the increasing power of storms, long-lived droughts, and massive floods, and not conclude that the scientists might be on to something.
But McConnell knows that to admit that he believes in the scientific consensus will lose him votes among know-nothing voters who still see global climate change as a plot for scientists to get grant money. In this Limbaugh-esque worldview, scientists are like welfare queens, gaming the system for profit. McConnell knows that if a large part of your base is ignorant, you've got to act ignorant, too, or risk chasing them off. He also needs to keep his big-oil donors happy.
Though I'm not a huge fan of Senator Lamar Alexander, he is at least on record as being sensible on this issue: "Eleven academies in industrialized countries say that climate change is real; humans have caused most of the recent warming," Alexander said in 2012, adding: "If fire chiefs of the same reputation told me my house was about to burn down, I'd buy some fire insurance."
Sadly, Alexander is an exception among GOP leaders. Florida's Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio both have repeatedly used the "I'm not a scientist" dodge, as has Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose state has already lost 2,000 square miles to rising ocean water. House Majority Leader John Boehner is also "not a scientist."
The weird thing is that by using this line, these GOP leaders are admitting that scientists know more about, well, science, than they do, but that they've decided to ignore the scientific consensus. Imagine extending this "logic" to other areas. It would mean you could have no opinion on anything in which you were not an accredited expert. The economy? Sorry, I'll leave that to the economists. War in the Middle East? I'm not a general, so I can't have an opinion. Ebola? I'm no doctor. It's beyond absurd.
I have a suggestion: The next time you hear one of these clowns use the "I'm not a scientist" line, mentally insert the word "rocket" in front of "scientist." It makes total sense that way.