Warren Olney, host of NPR’s To the Point, made a shocking observation yesterday during a discussion of the scientific consensus about climate change. To a guest who challenged that consensus, the host suggested that his take on global warming and climate change was directed not by facts or evidence but by his political point of view.
It surprised me because this is something hardly anyone ever talks about in public. From blandly objective NPR hosts to flaming partisans, just about everyone, just about always, ignores a critical fact about our political discourse: that on any non-political issue, partisans will line up almost unanimously on the side that is most convenient for their political point of view, regardless of objective evidence.
Closing the circle, the media then ignores that whole dynamic and reports the argument as if it were about legitimate differences in interpretation of evidence rather than made-up viewpoints determined by ideological slant.
In this case, Olney pointed out that those who perpetuate doubt about the genesis and seriousness of climate change tend to be small-government types and libertarians, political partisans who take the climate change position they do, not because they have reviewed the evidence and come to a conclusion, but because they fear that if they give way on what the scientific community and much of the public already acknowledges, government will take intrusive steps to try to deal with the problem – “big-government” steps that conflict with their political philosophy.
This isn’t a right-wing-only phenomenon. Look at how many congressional votes come down on strict party lines. Representatives aren’t voting on bills based on careful analysis of their content (or on the preferences of their constituents) but on ideology aligned with party. How could all these people who happen to be in the same party also just happen to think the same way about question after question? It’s not possible.
Of course, to a large extent, it has been ever thus. We seem to be a factional species. But precisely for that reason, we usually accept, ignore, and forget about it. Let’s not. It’s more than a little disturbing to know that we’re governed by people who aren’t thinking about anything for themselves.