Romney's Climate Change Straight Talk

Written by David Frum on Monday June 6, 2011

Tim Pawlenty was rightly praised for speaking out against ethanol subsidies. But why hasn't Romney received accolades for telling a more dangerous truth?

When Tim Pawlenty called for a (gradual) end to ethanol subsidies, he won accolades as a "truth teller." Surely he deserved them, even if (as FF noted at the time) his stance was not quite as brave as it seemed.

It’s courageous, principled, and right for Tim Pawlenty to travel to Iowa to denounce ethanol and other farm subsidies. But I’m also left wondering: is this also a very good way to manage expectations if he comes second or third or worse in Iowa, where Pawlenty is currently polling in single digits?

But why no such accolades for Mitt Romney for telling a much more dangerous truth in a Republican primary?

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.

Pawlenty's comments may put him on the wrong side of some Iowa farmers. The rest of the organized GOP will applaud. Romney's comments on global warming defy the orthodoxy of Fox and talk in a way we have seen from few other Republicans in the past two years. Ditto his defense of the merit of extending 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 did not truly change.

On health and now climate, Romney is signaling: in important ways, he has not.