D.R. Tucker: Occupy Conservatism

November 21, 2011

In “Confessions of a Climate Change Convert”,  D. R. Tucker explained the change in consciousness that came to a conservative writer after seriously looking at the evidence for  anthropogenic climate change.
Today, he offers another insight into the conservative’s climate quandary.

The first book I read after completing the IPCC report that changed my philosophical climate on global warming was Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science.” I remember when the book first came out in 2005; I was curious about reading it at the time, but never actually found the time to do so. When I saw the book’s title back then, I thought to myself that such a book should never have been written, because the GOP should never have allowed itself to be viewed as “anti-science” by the general population. (Don’t ask how I squared that view with my belief that Al Gore made up global warming; to be a conservative in America is to embrace extreme ideological contradictions.) Five years later, I couldn’t wait to read the book.

“The Republican War on Science” enlightened me in a way no other book on political science has. With rhetorical skill and intellectual vigor, Mooney traced how the GOP began to scorn scientific principles and findings in the name of fulfilling specific ideological and fiscal goals. Dogma had replaced reality in the Republican brain, Mooney forcefully argued, and the country and the world had suffered as a result.

The late environmentalist and businessman Ray Anderson once said that reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” was a “spear in the chest” moment that made him realize the error of his philosophical ways. “The Republican War on Science” was my “spear in the chest” moment, making me realize just how much anti-science claptrap I had absorbed in my years of listening to conservative talk radio and reading right-wing punditry.

Despite extreme weather events predicted by climate scientists, and despite Charles Koch’s accidental validation (by way of physicist Richard Muller) of the accuracy of the global temperature record that came under attack in the “Climategate” pseudo-scandal, the denial demon continues to possess the GOP, causing Republicans in the House and Senate to do and say very strange things. The Republican presidential candidates aren’t much better, with contender after contender embracing the drill-baby-drill vision that the Deepwater Horizon spill should have dimmed.

What’s a Republican “warmist” to say, when the GOP tells green folks to go away?

It may be that the American right in toto—the conservative movement, the Tea Party, the libertarian think-tank crowd—has to self-destruct in order for any real action on climate change to take place in the US. Not the Republican Party per se, but the right-wing interests that have contaminated and polluted the party.

One of the last conservative radio shows I listened to had a host who often noted that there were no “Scoop Jackson Democrats” left, by which he meant Democratic hawks. Of course, most “Scoop Jackson Democrats” eventually became neoconservative Republicans, so they haven’t actually disappeared.

The real political tragedy in this country is not the alleged demise of “Scoop Jackson Democrats,” but the actual demise of “Mike Castle Republicans”—Republicans who believed that hyper-partisanship was not the highest virtue in life, Republicans who actually respected science, Republicans who recognized that, contrary to what Ronald Reagan intoned in 1981, sometimes government can be the solution to problems, instead of being the problem itself.

In order to bring an end to the “War on Science”—in order to revive the GOP’s lost legacy on conservation, and to create the bipartisan will necessary to push America, and eventually the world, towards a renewable-energy future—the political influence of the American right must be mitigated as much as possible, op-ed for op-ed, broadcast for broadcast, vote for vote. In other words, action on climate won’t take place until the political discussion in the US takes place solely between progressive Democrats and moderate/centrist Republicans, the folks who actually made the Grand Old Party grand.

I’m a Bush 41 kid. I’m too young to have clear memories of Ronald Reagan beyond the speech he delivered after the Challenger disaster (and the speech he delivered after the embarrassing details of Iran-Contra were revealed), so I could never relate emotionally to the feelings of nostalgia that seemed to grip so many Americans when he passed away in June 2004.

George H. W. Bush was the first president I have clear memories of, the first one I formed an emotional bond with. He seemed humble, reasonable, fundamentally fair and decent, the sort of fellow you could trust with your wallet. I always had the sense that he cared deeply about this country—and about me.

It wasn’t until I started paying close attention to politics that I realized how much hardcore conservatives loathed him. To this day, they hate his 1990 budget compromise, his appointment of David Souter to the Supreme Court, his signing of the 1990 Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In short, they still hate him because he chose judgment over ideology.

I’ve thought a lot about Bush 41 this past year, trying to draw parallels between the grief I took for dissenting from the conservative line on climate and the grief he took for dissenting from the conservative line on numerous issues. I realize now that the hatred he received from the right was the same hatred any open-minded person receives from close-minded people.

Bush 41 wasn’t perfect on environmental issues (James Hansen notes in Storms of My Grandchildren that John Sununu, Bush’s chief to staff, tried to get him fired from NASA), but it’s hard to imagine a GOP full of Bush 41s being as callous on conservationist concerns as the party is now. For Republicans who want both parties to be responsive to these concerns, and for Americans who recognize that not taking action to reduce emissions is far more economically dangerous than taking action, the only way to go forward is by telling the right to get lost.

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7 Responses to “D.R. Tucker: Occupy Conservatism”

  1. Martin_Lack Says:

    There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that doth repent…

    A fascinating insight into right-wing politics “across the pond” (i.e. as seen by someone in the UK). How I wish that our right-wing journalists (such as Christopher Booker, James Delingpole, Lord Monckton, and Melanie Phillips) would read Mooney’s book; as the scales could yet fall from their eyes too…

    Being someone whose political views tend to be naturally conservative (as opposed to progressive and/or liberal), the libertarian ideology that seems to have long-since captured right-wing politicians everywhere is something that bothers me greatly. As does the ignorance and/or stupidity of many GOP candidates in the US… What with forgetting major policy on live TV, or being unable to say whether or not Obama’s policy toward Lybia (whoever she is?) was correct… I think the teaching of non-US geography in your schools is clearly very poor; or else it must just be that many in the GOP suffer from ADHD…

    Hence my critique of Roger Scruton’s deeply hypocritical take on how conservatives should reclaim environmental concerns as one of their own. Clearly, I believe they should indeed do this, I just think Scruton does not do the cause any favors, whereas Mooney may well have done so…


  2. […] change activist recently wrote a great post on Climate Denial Crock of the Week titled “Occupy Conservatism.” Worth a read, especially if you’re a thoughtful […]


  3. […] back home and vote for someone who takes the protection of our Environment seriously (preferably someone who also acknowledges that anthropogenic climate change is a real and present danger that must faced up to and dealt with). LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); […]


  4. […] D.R. Tucker, who realized the deep tragedy and ignorance of global warming denial once he dug into the science; or Republican MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel, who’s had himself and his wife […]


  5. […] Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality (due out April 3) makes it. Mooney, whose 2005 bestseller The Republican War on Science called attention to the GOP’s intolerance …, delves deeper into the dynamic that causes the American right to express scorn for that which […]


  6. […] The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality (due out April 3) makes it. Mooney, whose 2005 bestseller The Republican War on Science called attention to the GOP’s intoleranc…, delves deeper into the dynamic that causes the American right to express scorn for that which […]


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