So now Chris Christie is a climate-change denier. He was at a ceremony Monday, just a few hours before Moore, Oklahoma, got pounded for the sixth time in recent years, doing the sort of thing governors love to do—pounding the ceremonial final nail into the rebuilt boardwalk in Lavallette, New Jersey. A reporter from WNYC/New Jersey Public Radio asked him about her stations’ investigative report on the state’s extreme lack of preparedness for Hurricane Sandy. Should state agencies, he was asked, have made preparations with climate change in mind?
Well. It wasn’t so long ago that Christie spoke like a rational person on these matters. Campaigning for his first term, he got the endorsements of some environmental groups, like the New Jersey Environmental Federation. In August 2011, just a few months into his term, he said that “climate change is real” and “human activity plays a role in these changes.” As recently as February, Mother Jones was optimistic enough to run a piece speculating that Christie could lead the Republican Party to a sane position on the issue.
Back in February, Christie was still fairly fresh off his post-Sandy Obama hugfest. He didn’t say anything then accepting that climate change was real to him. He said he didn’t have time for such “esoteric” questions and might ponder them later. Well, later has arrived. Something else that has arrived, just a week ago, is the devastating WNYC/NJPR report by Kate Hinds and Andrea Bernstein showing that New Jersey’s preparations for Sandy were a joke compared with New York’s.
Hinds and Bernstein filed freedom-of-information requests to obtain emails and other documents and interviewed dozens of officials on both sides of the Hudson. Result: New York’s MTA—which runs New York City’s trains as well as much of the regional system that serves the city—had subway service up and running quickly after the hurricane and had made extensive preparations for Sandy, including consultations with scientists who specialize in transit planning for climate-change-related incidents. NJ Transit, by contrast, lost more than a quarter of its fleet, some of the cars brand new, because it parked them in a yard that was a bad spot. Hinds and Bernstein suggest that better planning would have told them that.
And so we circle back now to Christie on the boardwalk. Should New Jersey have prepared with climate change in mind? No, the governor said, “’cause I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change.”
It’s that “proof” that’s the giveaway. No proof is what the science deniers say. There is no proof of evolution; it’s just a theory. There was no proof, said George W. Bush, back in his presidency’s pre-9/11 infancy, that harvested stem cells could save lives. No proof that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old (well, there is, but never mind). It’s the magic word on the right, a Palin kind of word, a word aimed straight at the Pavlovian gland of the anti-science right and backstopped by tens of millions of dollars supporting phony “research” that seeks to blur empirical lines and throw shadows.
There have been some things to admire about Christie. The way he didn’t fear being seen with Obama (imagine what we’ve come to: being seen with a president, at a time of disaster, is a curse to most Republican governors). The way he defended those Muslims he hired. And the way he wanted to be, to some extent anyway, an environmental steward. There’s a tradition of this among Republicans in his state—ex-governor Tom Kean fit the bill and, of course, Christie Whitman.
But Monday Christie signaled he’s joined the yahoo caucus. He can’t buck the base on this litmus-test question and hold out any hope, he obviously feels, of winning the Republican nomination in 2016. It’s nonnegotiable, and he’s not even going to try.
And it’s the only position, when you think about it, that can make up for the Obama embrace, as far as the base is concerned. It can be rationalized thus: he did what he needed to do to get the federal flood cash, but at least he doesn’t buy that socialistic drivel about climate change.
This would hardly be worth remarking on if this were your standard-issue Republican presidential aspirant; they’re all so soulless and automatically reactionary that one would never expect anything else. But Christie has shown occasional flashes of having an independent mind. It would seem they’re going to be fewer and farther between.