The Slatest

The Bizarre Political Logic That Leads Conservative Pundits to Downplay a Hurricane

Rush Limbaugh is among the prominent conservatives who have decided hurricane models are a liberal conspiracy.

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One of the stranger and more troubling political developments of the past 15 years has been the conservative response to scientists’ warnings of potentially catastrophic climate change. If climate change is real, to address it would probably require government intervention in industry. And conservatives are opposed to that. Therefore, climate change must not be real! The scientists are all lying.

And if the scientists are the sort of people who would lie to us about the climate, what else might they be lying about? Hurricanes, for one thing.

So goes the logic, if I may use the term loosely, of the influential conservative blogger Matt Drudge. On Thursday, as Hurricane Matthew approached the Florida coast with 130mph winds—so the scientists claim, at any rate!—Drudge spied an opportunity to plant his flag and catch out those nefarious forecasters and their politically motivated hurricane models. Here is what he decided would be a good idea to tweet:

Lest anyone get the mistaken impression that this was pure, shameless, and dangerously uninformed speculation on Drudge’s part, he followed this up by lodging some more specific allegations of meteorological misconduct. The National Weather Service, it turns out, is a secretive cabal whose members hoard the real weather data so that they can cook up fake forecasts to hoodwink the public into evacuating their homes for no reason.

Why would they do all that? What climate agenda would be served by government scientists triggering a mass evacuation for a storm that turns out to be illusory? Drudge does not deign to clarify. We’re left to imagine a liberal conspiracy so farsighted that it encompasses entire fields of science and multiple arms of government, yet so nearsighted that it doesn’t realize it would lose rather than gain credibility by making false predictions that will be proven wrong the moment the storm passes harmlessly by.

Lest you think these are the delusional ramblings of a lone wingnut, my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley points out that Rush Limbaugh has espoused almost exactly the same theory. From Wonkette’s post on the relevant segment of today’s Rush Limbaugh Show:

The National Hurricane Center is part of the National Weather Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, which is part of the Obama administration, which by definition has been tainted just like the DOJ has. … With hurricane tracking and hurricane forecasting, I’ve been able to spot where I think they might be playing games because it’s in the interests of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can continue desperately continue trying to sell.

Interestingly, Limbaugh winds up by acknowledging that Hurricane Matthew is a “serious bad storm,” perhaps to insulate himself from the angry recriminations if the damage is severe. Drudge seems to have missed that memo.

Is it possible that it’s actually Drudge and Limbaugh, and not the National Weather Service, who are misleading the public about natural disasters in order to score some cheap political points? Ah, but to believe that would require trusting professional scientists over conservative pundits to tell us the truth about science. And that in turn would suggest that perhaps we should do the same when it comes to climate science—which would then raise the specter once again of having to actually do something about it, perhaps via government intervention in industry.

Best not to go down that road.