At the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign last night, Phil Scott pulled a Dunne.
That is, he significantly changed a policy stance while passing it off as no big deal.
The subject was climate change. On many occasions, Scott has acknowledged climate change is real but declined to admit that human activity is responsible. Here he is, at a late-July forum on the Vermont economy in a time of climate change.
Yes, I do believe that climate change is real and it could be for many different reasons. …There are many who think it’s caused by human behavior. There are some who believe it’s due to climate change, uh, changing on a worldwide basis.
Maybe it’s because he’s gotten some pushback for taking a stance to the right of Bruce Lisman and Jim Douglas, who both acknowledge human impact. Maybe he’s repositioning himself for the general election. But he changed his tune substantially at last night’s forum.
Sue Minter asked him why he was out of step with 97 percent of the scientific community in refusing to acknowledge human impact. He began his answer by saying “You’re getting confused.” He then clearly stated that “climate change is real and man-made,” and then added “I was acknowledging that there are many who don’t believe that.”
His approach is to evade areas of controversy and “focus on areas we can agree on.”
So, he believes that climate change is human-caused — but he doesn’t want to challenge those who don’t?
This… is leadership?
Not to mention, it’s a feckless approach to addressing climate change. If we have to get everybody on board, including those who refuse to accept the scientific consensus, then I’m sorry, but we’re never going to get any real work done.
On this, or any other issue. Imagine this: “I believe that drug abuse treatment is crucial to end the scourge or addiction, but many believe that tougher enforcement is the answer. I wan to focus on areas we can agree on.”
Well, back to the main point: the flip-flop.
It’s barely possible that Scott’s earlier statements on climate change were spectacularly inarticulate, and last night he was merely fleshing out his actual stance.
Problem is, he has repeatedly said more or less the same thing. When he was in a Republican primary, he didn’t acknowledge human causation; now that he’s in a general campaign, he’s perfectly willing to admit it.
Sorry, that doesn’t pass the smell test. The timing is way too convenient for a Republican candidate who needs moderate voters on his side, and no longer needs to pander to the Know-Nothing wing of his own party.
But there’s a bigger problem with his shiny new stance: His reluctance to take any steps that would be controversial with the denialist crowd.
How much progress can we possibly make if every step has to be acceptable to those who deny the scientific consensus?
Scott pays lip service to Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. He said it would be “difficult, but doable.” And then he added the kicker: “I hope we can make it.”
Pardon me. You hope?
Laying the groundwork for failure right up front, are we?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Phil Scott has a curious vision of “leadership.”
(Broader reflections on the entire debate in a separate post later today.)