Facing the greatest threat in human history – catastrophic climate change – Mitt Romney, mixing arrogance, ignorance and the denial of science, would have us practice the modern-day equivalent of putting hot cow manure on open wounds.
As I listened to Mitt Romney stand before the Republican National Convention and mock any concern for the climate crisis while the audience laughed, I was struck by parallels to a book by Candice Millard, “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President,” about the atrocious medical care given to President James Garfield, after he was shot in an assassination attempt on July 2, 1881.
Garfield would have survived the bullet, but died weeks later from infection after gross medical malpractice. Most American doctors of the time dismissed the “germ theory” pioneered by non-American scientists, like British doctor Joseph Lister.
Never miss another story
Get the news you want, delivered to your inbox every day.
The arrogance of American physicians and their disrespect of the work of foreign scientists resulted in their rejection of modern surgical sterile techniques well-established in Europe. It was an early edition of the prejudice of “American exceptionalism,” the idea that America was inherently superior, or even divinely exalted above all nations.
Because they couldn’t see them, American doctors ridiculed belief in bacteria, comparing it to the silly, contemporary belief in fairies. Doctors even took pride in their filth, carrying blood, pus and dirt from one patient to the next. In 1881, American country doctors were still applying hot cow manure to open wounds. Doctors treating Garfield routinely performed surgery without changing their clothes or washing their hands, and held instruments in their teeth for convenience.
Much like the Garfield assassination attempt, fossil fuels burned by industrialized civilization have gravely “wounded” the ecosystems necessary for human survival.
But the level of scientific sophistication Romney and congressional Republicans are applying to the “fever” and “infection” spreading through our own habitat is on par with Garfield’s doctors of 1881 denying the germ theory – you can’t see CO2, therefore how could it be a problem? CO2 is natural, therefore linking it to a climate crisis must be a hoax, just like fairies.
That Americans now see, feel and suffer from catastrophic weather events, blistering heat, devastating drought, crop losses and disappearing water sources has led to a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who believe that the climate crisis is a serious and growing threat to their well being.
Every day more scientists, including the few skeptic holdouts of years past, are sounding the alarm. The global temperature extremes, droughts, floods, disappearing glaciers and Arctic ice are accelerating much faster than predictions of even a few years ago.
Republicans still are undeterred. Romney’s energy plan is a stunning repudiation of every branch of science, economic research, common sense and of the aesthetic values shared by us all.
Romney even opposes the new Obama auto fuel efficiency standards set to double the miles per gallon achieved by domestic vehicles. Even as strictly a jobs program, the GOP plan is a disaster. It’s as if the only jobs that count are fossil fuel jobs, never mind all the economic and job losses from the collateral damage of drilling, spilling, pumping, leaking and burning all those fossil fuels.
It’s as repugnant as if doctors in 1881 acknowledged the germ theory, but refused to wash their hands because of all the mortician jobs lost by cleaning up.
The embrace of American exceptionalism has only grown since Garfield’s time – permeating our culture and the entire political spectrum. Romney relentlessly waves the flag of American superiority over his campaign. Even worse is the subtext, the adolescent fantasy that our “superhero” omnipotence frees us from the laws of nature. Global warming won’t be a problem for us because – well, we’re Americans.
If it becomes a problem for other nations, that’s their problem. Dancing to the tune of his oil billionaire backers, Romney panders to our basest, most selfish instincts, luring us to utterly surrender our air, water, soil, climate and future to fossil fuels. Drill, baby, drill, deregulate, baby, deregulate literally means literally: Burn, planet, burn.
As on every other issue, Romney has flip-flopped on climate and energy. As recently as 2010 he talked favorably of a carbon tax.
It defies belief that he has sincerely changed all his views after stumbling upon his long-lost, radically conservative consciousness, while rummaging through the basement of his soul. Put simply, Mitt knows better.
Romney apologists, like his “etch-a-sketch” campaign manager, will say that all politicians promise things they know they will not or cannot deliver. But this is unlike any other idle campaign promise in history. Our long-term ability to survive on this planet hangs in the balance.
If Romney is elected, neither the fossil fuel oligarchs, who have flooded the election with money on his behalf, nor the insane asylum that has become the Republican Party, of which he is now the caretaker, will abide a flip-flop back to real climate stewardship.
Yet he must also know that eight years – or even four years – of his energy platform will slam shut the last crack in the door for averting climate disaster.
We are left with this chilling conclusion: Mitt Romney is willing to risk the lives of billions of people, and a climate that could end modern civilization, so that he can live out his dream of being the president.
Facing far and away the greatest threat in human history, Mitt would have us practice the modern-day equivalent of putting hot cow manure on our open wounds. In 1881 a potent mix of arrogance, ignorance and the denial of science doomed a beloved president. Today, the same mix in a would-be president, could doom us all.