Was Thune speaking offhandedly or with some calculation when he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday over the weekend that . . . "climate change is occurring, it's always occurring, Chris. There are a number of factors that contribue to that, including human activity. The question is, what are we going to do about it and at what cost?"
Though the comment didn't necessarily whiz by me, I didn't give it much thought. Certainly didn't seem like a breakthrough sentiment, mainly because I've always thought of Thune as generally level-headed and willing to keep an open mind about things, at least within political parameters. But suddenly all the buzz created by the statement is flying around the internet and South Dakota's blogosphere. It sure didn't miss the attention of the editors of the Washington Post, who treated it like a major political story yesterday, actually calling Thune's comment a "bow to scientists" on climate change. The subtle slam against Thune, making him out to be some kind of a hayseed who suddenly discovered scientific inquiry notwithstanding, the real story is that Thune has broken irreversibly with standard GOP dogma on this.
That dogma is best expressed by the position on climate change taken in 2012. The Republican Platform was explicit in its refusal to concede that human activity was a proven cause of climate change. You can scour the platform yourself and find this phrase in the section on climate change: "the causes and long range effects of [climate change] are uncertain." Get that? Just two short years ago the official position of the Republican Party was unequivocally opposed to labeling human activity as a cause of climate change. Over the weekend, our Senator John Thune threw that uncompromising position aside and said that "human activity" does indeed--along with other factors--contribute to climate change.
No doubt a lot of the speculation on this is focused on the implications for a future run at the White House. But whether it hints at Presidential ambitions or not, Thune's comments will no doubt have some consequences here among his constituents. His strong pro-Keystone XL position and his intention to vote for it when the measure comes up in the Senate dovetails with his long-standing antagonism toward the Environmental Protection Agency and his many statements about EPA overreach and land-grabs. That Thune is now embracing a key element of the climate change "manual" may well endear him to an important sector of a national constituency. But it will probably do so at the cost of setting off alarms with many of his Republican supporters here in South Dakota.
I know that if I'm a farmer or rancher here, currently worried sick about the EPA asserting its water standards authority over every gully and low spot on my property, I'm depending on Thune to block the Agency's intentions. Now all of a sudden when I'm hearing him making nice with environmentalists and being celebrated in the Washington Post for doing so, I'm gettting a bit concerned. If Thune develops a "human-activity-causes-climate-change" persona while reaching for a broad, national constituency, I know he'll have to back it up with some legislative action. Will he cave on the EPA's lowering of ozone standards? What about the wetlands land-grab by the agency? And then there's Keystone XL.
If I'm that farmer, I'd hate to think it, but couldn't help musing, is Thune turning into a RINO? I'd have to wonder. One thing I know for sure, I'll be paying close attention to developments following Thune's sudden "bow to the scientists," which WaPo, one of the EPA's strongest media advocates, refers to as "a glimmer of hope." My first Q: Hope for whom?