There's a tendency to treat Senator James Inhofe as the Republican Party's crazy uncle. You invite him to dinner. You listen to him rant about global warming. You wait out his stories about asking Michael Crichton to testify before his committee as a climate expert. You try not to look away from your peas.
But there's a case for taking Inhofe much more seriously than that. He's not the party's crazy uncle. He's it's unrestrained id. What makes him different from other Republicans is that there's little distance between rhetoric and action. But it's his rhetoric, and not theirs, that's actually a useful guide to Republican Party behavior. Take his curious response to Arlen Specter's defection:
There is no evidence more visible that the American people are already rebelling against the far-left agenda than Senator Arlen Specter switching parties to become a Democrat. He did this for one reason, and that is his advisers told him he couldn’t retain his Senate seat as a Republican. In other words, the same people who supported Senator Specter six years ago have soundly rejected him today.
That, my friends, sounds like 1994. The extreme liberal agenda is not sellable to the American people. Just wait and see.
The comment is being widely mocked. "Hot-shit psychobabble," says Wonkette. But it's not a joke. The embedded lunacy in Inhofe's analysis is his conflation of the embattled rump of Pennsylvania's GOP base with "the American people." But it's also an excellent guide to how Republicans have been voting of late. Zero House Republicans voted for a popular president's popular stimulus bill. Zero House Republicans voted for a popular president's popular budget proposal. A policy of endless opposition to popular legislation is electorally suicidal. Unless, of course, you think that your base is somehow a leading indicator of the country at large.
And much the same goes for Inhofe's take on global warming. Inhofe has carved out a role as the political system's leading gobal warming denier. Sensible Republicans will assure you that his views are marginal. And it's certainly true that his hardline presentation of those views has fallen out of favor. But the legislative strategy that they permit has remained steady. Inhofe thinks global warming is not a problem and so efforts to address carbon emissions should be flatly opposed. A critical mass of the Republican Party thinks something slightly more sophisticated about global warming but believe efforts to address carbon emissions should be flatly opposed. It's actually Inhofe's objection, and not the slightly more nuanced spin on it, that explains why you'd decide to risk catastrophic climate change.