Mitt Romney gave a serviceable, lie-filled speech last night. It was perhaps most notable for not being the speech that Clint Eastwood delivered to an empty chair, and for not being quite as lie-filled as Ryan's speech the night before. But the third most notable thing about it was its intense focus on American exceptionalism and then probably this line: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise (audience laughter) is to help you and your family."
The line was a hit in the convention hall, but many were outraged that Romney was making light of climate change. The bellwether Think Progress headline reads Romney Mocks Obama’s Pledge To Address Global Warming — As GOP Delegates Laugh At The Whole Notion. But it's important to keep in mind that the chief target here isn't climate change and how it's a foolish thing to try to address (though that's the subtext), but Obama himself.
This is obviously meant to portray Obama as grandiose and foolish, making wild promises he can’t keep —- about things that don’t matter to people.That "slow the rise of the oceans" line has been widely derided by conservatives ever since Obama first uttered it in his inaugural address—Romney targeted it not because he wanted to show everyone that he thinks fighting climate change is a dumb idea (though again, that's implicit), but because he knew everyone would eat up the tasty Obama hate. It was a way to showcase the president's pomposity first and foremost, and the phrase that did the trick was about climate change.
However, it creates an odd distinction, as if the health of the planet and help for one’s family are different altogether and one’s family will do well even if the planet is doing poorly. Meanwhile, this summer, families in Colorado have lost their homes to fire and families through the Midwest have suffered intense heat and farmers’ crops have failed. Belief that global warming is happening has increased.
But still. It's a callous remark, and indicates that Romney doesn't think the rising seas are worth worrying about, or that they should be a concern of "you and your family." The line demonstrates that in the Republican bubble-world, climate change has been written off as entirely frivolous; nonsense that liberals and eggheads babble on about that doesn't have any real-world impact at all on Americans. Which of course is patently false.
When we were discussing the speech, my colleague commented that she fears the statement shows that Mitt will gladly wage a war on science if he were to take office. And I'm sure he would; at least in the sense that he'd continue ignoring climate scientists, either gut or install a Bush-like EPA, and would double down on fossil fuel extraction. But the comment is less useful as an indicator of Mitt's personal beliefs than a reflection of the current Republican zeitgeist—Romney played the line for laughs, knowing that all of the convention attendees more or less agreed that both Obama's grand ambitions and climate change itself is a joke.
If elected, Romney, who lacks a single passionate focus besides pleasing the GOP, would continue to cater to the base in much the same way. He would likely govern expressly as a GOP crowd-pleaser—and in that crowd, Republican ideologues shout away science, and compromising with science-respecting moderates is out of the question. O, what a crowd it is.
And that crowd would never even discuss addressing climate change. As such, Romney's big comment wasn't a clarion call to abandon the search for climate solutions or to disregard science. It was more of a dog whistle.