David Frum is right. Mitt Romney should be getting more credit for stating bluntly that global warming is real and that humans play at least some role in causing it. Here's how Romney responded to a questioner at a townhall meeting in New Hampshire last week when asked about the subject:
I don't speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world's getting warmer. I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don't know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing.
Now, on the one hand, Romney is merely repeating the received wisdom of the reality-based community. But on the other hand, that's not nothing! It is commendable both because a large segment of the conservative base angrily disagrees with this wisdom, and therefore stating otherwise carries some political risk; and it is also commendable because one can easily imagine how the circa-2007 full-pander Romney might have responded to the same question had climate-denial been an issue back then (it wasn't).
Frum goes on to suggest that Romney is quietly being rather brave, both for acknowledging global warming and for defending the need to extend health coverage to more Americans:
The global warming comment demonstrates a trait I've noted in Romney before:
The reason he has a reputation as a panderer is precisely that he's not very good at pandering.
When Tim Pawlenty repeats nonsense about "fiat money," he does so without a blink of mental reservation. His listeners are induced to imagine that he really believes what he says - even if as president he would almost certainly jettison that belief for one more in accord with modern economics.
When Mitt Romney panders, however, he leaves behind doubts whether he really means what he says. He's not in trouble on abortion because he changed his mind to appeal to conservative voters. He's in trouble because they suspect that he truly did not change.
I wouldn't go quite that far. Rather, I'd point out that acknowledging global warming, while carrying some risk in today's Republican Party, moves Romney much closer to the position held by Jon Huntsman. I think that's the key thing here. Both candidates are basically forsaking the whackier element of the conservative base. Huntsman has done so openly; Romney is doing it tacitly, eschewing birtherism and climate denial, and focusing on the economy and how his business background qualifies him to turn it around. Both candidates are gunning to be the "grown up" in the race, betting that voters will eventually grow weary of the Trumps and the Palins and nominate a candidate who could actually beat Obama. That's a much healthier direction to take, and congrats to Romney for doing so. But I suspect it's motivated as much by strategy as bravery.
Drop-down image credit: AP
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is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.