Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Marco Rubio disqualifies himself from civilized society by pandering to the fundamentalists who control the Republican Party

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Does 2 + 2 = 4 or 5? That's one of the great mysteries.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican wunderkind for some time now, is currently the flavor of the day on the right.

He's more or less ideologically sound; he's young, attractive, and charismatic; he's from Florida, a key swing state; he's a Latino who can speak credibly about immigration while adding some much-needed color to a mostly white party (and after Romney's loss a lot of Republicans think they can win if only they narrow the Latino vote gap, specifically by embracing a less extreme immigration policy); and he may well be the glue needed to hold the party together at this challenging time.

Yes, 2016 is along way off, but he's already out there and already looking viable.

And he obviously knows he has to do some strategic fence-straddling, even at this early date, in order to pull the disparate elements of the party together. Consider, for example, his answer to the question, "How old do you think the Earth is?":

I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt (which I'm not sure I should do), it's easy to see what's going on here. The Republican Party is full of Christian fundamentalists and other anti-science elements, and so the only way he could answer the question without alienating either them or, on the other side, those who actually embrace reality, including those much-ballyhooed independents, was by waffling.

But it was some truly shameless and embarrassing waffling.

On the one hand, maybe Dan Amira is right that response is deceptively pro-science. He says, after all, that he's "not a scientist," implying that only a scientist can know the actual age of the Earth.

Otherwise, though, his answer was just stupid:

Specifically, this isn't some great mystery. As Phil Plait writes at Slate:

The Earth is 4.54 billion years old.

We know this because science works. A large number of independent fields of science show that the Earth is terribly old, and all these different scientific areas -- highly successful in their own rights -- converge on the same age of the Earth. This number is very well known, very well understood, and the process behind its determination is a foundational assumption across all fields of science.

Plait proceeds to pick apart Rubio's answer, concluding:

Senator Rubio is exactly and precisely wrong. Science, and how it tells us the age of the Earth, has everything to do to do with how our economy will grow. By teaching our kids actual science, we can guarantee the future of this country and its economic growth. By hiding it from them, by equivocating about it with them, by providing false balance between reality and wishful thinking, what we guarantee is a future workforce that can’t distinguish between what's real and what isn't.

That's a formula for failure. And you don't need to be a scientist to see that.

But of course this is the Republican Party we're talking about, and Rubio wants to be a big-time player in the party, perhaps even its presidential nominee in 2016.

And if that's your goal, you might as well treat science as the enemy.

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  • I saw an article last night trying to equate Rubio's comments to something Obama said in 2008 where he also did not say how old the world actually was. But Obama was answering a completely different question, about what he would tell his daughter if she asked if g-d really created the world in 8 days. They are grasping at straws...

    By Anonymous Obama Ornaments, at 8:59 AM  

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