Okay, it’s March 23, 1775, and you’re at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, at the Virginia Convention. And there’s Patrick Henry up there. And he says it – “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were there, and everyone started shouting those words. And that convinced the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass a resolution delivering Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War.
But no one was dying that day. Patrick Henry died on June 6, 1799, at Red Hill, his family’s massive plantation – and then his widow married his first cousin, the executor of his will. One moves on. And that it was liberty or death – no other options – was always a figure of speech. It got the crowd fired up. Glenn Beck would understand. That those fired-up people go out and kill other people – like the guy in Pittsburgh who killed the cops because Glenn Beck told him Obama was going to take away his guns and pit everyone FEMA reeducation camps – wasn’t the point at all. The point was to make a point – it was a rhetorical flourish, and a damned good one. There’s also Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death – the album by Jell-O Biafra and the Dead Kennedys. Those guys recognized that words are just words.
And Patrick Henry was not a team player. He was a leader of the anti-federalists, the guys who opposed replacing the original Articles of Confederation with that damned United States Constitution – doing that would endanger the rights of the States, and also the freedoms of individuals. Who needed that Constitution thing?
He lost that one. But he didn’t fight to the death to make sure we didn’t adopt that Constitution he hated. He died of stomach cancer many years later.
Of course Patrick Henry is a hero to the Tea Party movement:
Therese Cooper is an eighth-generation descendant of Revolutionary War leader and orator Patrick Henry of Virginia, and she’s convinced that her ancestor would today be doing the same thing she is, organizing tea parties.
“If Patrick Henry were alive,” Cooper told New Mexico Watchdog’s Jim Scarantino, “he would be coordinating a Tea Party today.” Cooper and her daughter Emily are among New Mexico’s original Tea Party organizers, according to Scarantino.
And these folks are also the new anti-federalists – they say the love the Constitution but one suspects they love the old Articles of Confederation more, just like Patrick Henry. There are the Tenthers – they say that the Tenth Amendment means that most actions of the United States government are unconstitutional, as they are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment says that each state gets to decide on such unenumerated matters after all. Now they say it’s that damned intrusive and anti-freedom federal highway system. Who needs it? But mostly they want healthcare reform declared unconstitutional. Making sure everyone has a way to cover unexpected medical expenses was not enumerated in the Constitution of course, so the federal government is out of line in setting up such a thing. Patrick Henry would get it. But he’s dead.
And yes, for many who aren’t rich, that is a matter of life and death. But would you rather have your freedom or watch your child die? It is liberty or death, and if Patrick Henry were alive today he might be coordinating a Tea Party. But he didn’t say those noble words on the scaffold or anything, with the noose around his neck as the Brits were about to hang him. He was arguing for a legislative appropriation. And he lived another thirty years, respected and famous and wealthy – like Glenn Beck will. Talk about liberty or death is a statement of principle, not literal talk. It’s talk to fire up the crowds.
Of course global warming – climate change, if you want – may kill us all. And this too seems to be a matter where a lot of the talk is rhetorical flourish. And that would be the talk that there is no such thing, or if there is it’s caused by sunspots or natural cycles or pure chance, or the scientists of the world hate America or capitalism or both, and want to destroy both.
But, as with everyone on March 23, 1775, taking up Patrick Henry’s words – filling the room with chants – this is spreading, as Ronald Brownstein explained in the National Journal Online in GOP Gives Climate Science a Cold Shoulder:
Just for the record, when the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences last reviewed the data this spring, it concluded: “A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Not only William Hague but such other prominent European conservatives as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have embraced that widespread scientific conviction and supported vigorous action.
Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”
It will be difficult for the world to move meaningfully against climate disruption if the United States does not. And it will be almost impossible for the U.S. to act if one party not only rejects the most common solution proposed for the problem (cap-and-trade) but repudiates even the idea that there is a problem to be solved. The GOP’s stiffening rejection of climate science sets the stage for much heated argument but little action as the world inexorably warms – and the dangers that Hague identified creep closer.
But it’s another liberty-or-death thing, without the benefit of anyone pointing out that that was just rhetoric. The world is aghast. Don’t we understand the distinction between impassioned rhetoric and the facts of the matter?
The business and economics editor for the site Balloon Juice comments:
Personally, I don’t think it’s because Americans are dumber than other western people, I think it’s because we allow corporations to control our political system. If there was some massive corporate lobby, bigger than big oil, that wanted Republicans to say global warming was a terrible threat that needed to be taken on now, this would all change in a heartbeat.
David Roberts at Grist is a little more thorough:
The GOP’s near-unanimous climate denialism has no analogue in the democratic world. There are scattered cranks everywhere, of course, but there’s no other developed democracy in which a major political party is dominated by people who explicitly reject mainstream science.
Even conservative parties in most developed nations accept climate change as a crucial challenge. British Foreign Secretary and former Conservative Party leader William Hague last week declared climate change “perhaps the 21st century’s biggest foreign-policy challenge.” The U.K.’s new government, led by conservative David Cameron, has a green agenda that would make Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blush. And as Brownstein notes, “French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have embraced that widespread scientific conviction and supported vigorous action.”
Roberts points to the evidence – that not a single Republican Senate candidate accepts what the scientists say, and neither do those half-dozen Republican candidates for governor. And the press is no better:
You’d think widespread anti-scientific sentiment would be an embarrassment to the right, or at least something they’d have to answer for, but the Beltway press doesn’t treat it as radicalism, like it would if Republicans denied, say, the cosmic significance of the long-term budget deficit. In the political tabloids, climate change is treated as a kind of game, a contest between conservatives and environmentalists to move the needle on public opinion polls. (Environmentalists are down this month!)
And this leads to a strange situation:
Most Americans have no idea how distorted and backwards the U.S. climate change conversation is relative to what happens in other wealthy democracies. It’s to the point now that even mentioning climate change is considered a political loser for a U.S. politician. They’ve all been instructed to talk about green jobs and scary Arab oil. Obama hasn’t uttered the word “climate” more than a handful of times since taking office.
But we keep having those Patrick Henry moments, as John Broder in the New York Times reports here:
At a candidate forum here last week, Representative Baron P. Hill, a threatened Democratic incumbent in a largely conservative southern Indiana district, was endeavoring to explain his unpopular vote for the House cap-and-trade energy bill.
It will create jobs in Indiana, reduce foreign oil imports and address global warming, Mr. Hill said at a debate with Todd Young, a novice Republican candidate who is supported by an array of Indiana Tea Party groups and is a climate change skeptic.
“Climate change is real, and man is causing it,” Mr. Hill said, echoing most climate scientists. “That is indisputable. And we have to do something about it.”
A rain of boos showered Mr. Hill, including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party.
“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”
Rush and the Bible – what more do you need? But Broder lists what makes skepticism and outright denial of global warming articles of faith for the Tea Party movement – 1) it is a matter of religious conviction, or 2) it is driven by distrust of those they call the elites, or 3) efforts to address climate change are a conspiracy to impose world government and a massive redistribution of wealth. And the big issue – the Obama administration’s plans to regulate carbon dioxide “will require the expansion of government authority into nearly every corner of the economy.” Patrick Henry would get it.
And Broder quotes the founder of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots – “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”
Yes, some people said that – the John Birch Society charging Eisenhower with treason and saying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other like it violated the Tenth Amendment, and saying fluoridating the water supply would kill us all, was a bit much. William F. Buckley drove them out of the conservative movement. But they’re back – Sharron Angle, running for the Harry Reid’s senate seat from Nevada, simply does not like fluoride in the water supply – give me liberty or give my kids cavities. So the denial of climate change is not something that should surprise anyone. And many of these folks will win in the midterm elections, so cap and trade legislation is dead, and the Environmental Protection Agency could lose all its funding.
But Broder notes that this is not mainstream thinking:
Those who support the Tea Party movement are considerably more dubious about the existence and effects of global warming than the American public at large, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll conducted this month. The survey found that only 14 percent of Tea Party supporters said that global warming is an environmental problem that is having an effect now, while 49 percent of the rest of the public believes that it is. More than half of Tea Party supporters said that global warming would have no serious effect at any time in the future, while only 15 percent of other Americans share that view, the poll found.
And there’s the corporate thing:
Those views in general align with those of the fossil fuel industries, which have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it.
They produce the anti-global-warming studies and pay for rallies and websites to question the science, and they have generated all the economic analyses that show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy and be the ruin of us all. And they have Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, George Will and Sarah Palin and their side – government programs to address climate change are evil and one really has to wonder about the credibility and motives of the scientists who have raised alarms about it. Do those scientists hate America? Do they want the UN to take over America as we are forced to submit to a one-world government?
And there’s this:
Americans for Prosperity, a group founded and largely financed by oil industry interests, has sponsored what it calls a Regulation Reality Tour to stir up opposition to climate change legislation and federal regulation of carbon emissions. Its Tea Party talking points describe a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions as “the largest excise tax in history.”
FreedomWorks, another group supported by the oil industry, helps organize Tea Party rallies and distributes fliers urging opposition to federal climate policy, which it calls a “power grab.”
It seems that the oil, coal and utility industries have collectively spent five handed million in the last two years to lobby against legislation to address climate change, and to defeat candidates who support that sort of thing. And it works:
Their message appears to have fallen on receptive ears. Of the 20 Republican Senate candidates in contested races, 19 question the science of global warming and oppose any comprehensive legislation to deal with it, according to a National Journal survey.
Broder goes on to discuss Mark Steven Kirk, the Republican Senate nominee in Illinois, who was one of only eight Republicans to vote for the House cap-and-trade bill. He’s feeling very lonely.
On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal reports that “extreme drought” has taken hold in parts of nine states stretching from the Southeast to the lower Midwest and it’s getting worse:
Kevin Drum comments:
As it happens, this southern U.S. drought is probably not caused by global warming – not mostly, anyway. Like most droughts until now, its primary cause is natural climate oscillations (this year’s La Niña) and bad luck (no hurricanes so far this season). But don’t count on that continuing.
And he cites a new paper that reviews the recent literature on drought – Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder says it seems that we’re headed for serious and sustained droughts in much of the world. And that’s not way out in the future. It’s pretty much now. Much of the world is going to be far drier than they are today in a just twenty years. And that included this – “A striking feature is that aridity increases since the late 20th century and becomes severe drought by the 2060s over most of Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, most of Americas Australia, and Southeast Asia.”
So all of the world, except for China and Russia, will experience increased drought by 2030 and severe drought by 2060:
This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa….
Given the dire predictions for drought, adaptation measures for future climate changes should consider the possibility of increased aridity and widespread drought in coming decades. Lessons learned from dealing with past severe droughts, such as the Sahel drought during the 1970s and 1980s, may be helpful in designing adaptation strategies for future droughts.
Drum suggests you bump this up against compiled data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
The Sahel drought killed upwards of a million people, and since then the steady increase in drought conditions in sub-Saharan Africa has probably contributed to ongoing crises in Darfur, Chad, and elsewhere. Now imagine what the world will be like when droughts are twice as bad, last twice as long, and cover not just sub-Saharan Africa but upwards of half the landmass of the planet. That’s not really something you can adapt to.
And here’s some even worse news: these projections are based on midpoint global warming projections from the last IPCC report. But those projections are looking increasingly understated, and the next IPCC report is almost certain to raise its temperature forecasts. So as bad as Dai’s drought news is, the reality is probably even worse.
And Drum adds this:
This isn’t something that’s a century in the future. If we don’t do anything about it, it’s more like 20 years away. Tea partiers and their Republican enablers can play make believe all they want, but their kids and grandkids are going to pay the price for it. Global climate catastrophe is looking closer and closer all the time.
And Digby adds this:
Of course all the teabagging old duffers my age and older will be dead by the time the real ramifications of climate change hit so perhaps the truth is that most of them are just posturing to make a point and don’t really care about their grandkids at all. That would be my guess.
And what does this have to do with Patrick Henry? He said give me liberty or give me death. And sometimes you get death. And he wasn’t serious. It was just talk.