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Why GOP leaders refuse to get real

By Editorial (Chicago Sun-Times) - August 8, 2011

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says global warming is real and man-made.

What a nutty guy.

Yes, virtually all climate scientists, as well as the academies of science of most Western nations, agree global warming is real and dangerous and, for that matter, significantly the result of human activities. Yes, the only real scientific debate is what to do about it.

But Huntsman is not a scientist. He is a Republican. And as such, he’s running for the presidential nomination of a party caught in the clutches of people who don’t put much truck in science.

They especially don’t like science that threatens eternal verities, such as the absolute goodness of an unfettered free market and the evils of government regulation. If global warming were real, somebody might not love a smokestack.

That makes Huntsman a pretty crazy guy. He refuses to put his brain on a shelf. Why, just last week he dared to say: “Science should be driving our discussions on climate change.”

Contrast Huntsman’s foolishness with the good sense of other declared and undeclared candidates for the Republican nomination. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin say they don’t believe in global warming, and they probably don’t. Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty say they don’t believe global warming is man-made, though they probably do.

In any case, they’re all smart enough not to say something smart.

The mystery is not why so many Republican candidates persist in saying global warming is a myth. As we learned from the birther debate, some people will say anything for a boost in the polls.

The real mystery is why so many Americans refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made global warming is real. About 64 percent of Americans believe the globe is warming up, according to a recent poll, but only 47 percent think the cause is mostly human activity.

At the heart of the matter is a crippling cynicism among ordinary Americans about the values and competence of government, leading them to demand that government just butt out. They find it easier not to believe in global warming than to believe in the solution — more government rules and regulations.

It’s the same fed-up rejection of government that explains why so many middle-class Americans reject Democratic Party policies that seemingly have their best interests at heart, such as extending unemployment insurance and closing tax loopholes for millionaires.

Why shouldn’t people be cynical?

The Bush administration’s bailout of Wall Street and the Obama administration’s stimulus package and bailout of the auto industry may have spared the nation another Great Depression, but most Americans see something else. They see that they still can’t get a raise or pay the mortgage, even as hedge-fund managers once again enjoy record profits and bonuses.

“Government operates by the wrong values and rules, for the wrong people and purposes, the Americans I’ve surveyed believe,” Stanley B. Greenberg, a leading pollster, wrote in the New York Times last week. “Government rushes to help the irresponsible and does little for the responsible. Wall Street lobbyists govern, not Main Street voters.”

So maybe it’s time Washington just backed off.

If only it were that easy.

But the dangers of global warming are real, as much as we may loathe government intervention. And our nation cannot afford to ignore poorly performing schools, underfunded entitlement programs or a host of other problems that ultimately require collective action — government — to fix.

All Jon Huntsman was saying is this: Let’s get real.