Bush Meat

“Stay out of the Bushes!” Jesse Jackson repeatedly intoned at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. His advice still has merit fourteen years later, especially in light of a controversy over whether a scion of the Bush family has really broken with the most deranged elements of the GOP.

Last week, the Texas Tribune reported:

On the campaign trail in Texas for a little-known statewide office, George P. Bush is generally toeing the Republican Party line: He is attacking federal health care reform, decrying abortion and championing gun rights.

But it is environmental policy that will be under his purview in November if he wins his race to be Texas’ next land commissioner, a very likely outcome. Last week, in his first in-depth interview on the topic nearly a year and a half into his campaign, the son of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, nephew of former President George W. Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush sounded like anything but the Tea Party conservatives he has aligned himself with.

For starters, the younger Bush thinks climate change is a serious threat to Texas, though he stopped short of definitively attributing a hotter and drier state to human activity.

“I think people can agree that there has been warming in recent years,” Bush said, contradicting earlier statements by the state’s top environmental regulator.

The 38-year-old energy consultant added that the vulnerability of Texas’ Gulf Coast to storms, which he said is worsened by climate change-related problems like sea-level rise and coastal erosion, is something that “honestly keeps me up at night.”

It should have kept his relatives up at night as well: President George H. W. Bush did acknowledge human-caused climate change at various points during his administration, but as Ross Gelbspan noted in his seminal 1997 book The Heat Is On, Bush’s chief of staff, John Sununu was a notorious climate-change denier, as was his energy secretary, James Watkins. (Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen noted in his 2009 book Storms of My Grandchildren that Sununu tried to have him fired from NASA.) As for President George W. Bush’s dereliction of duty on the climate crisis, Joe Romm of ClimateProgress.org said it all.

So it appeared that George P. was coming around to scientific reality. Well, not so fast.

Shortly thereafter, a number of wingnut websites attacked the Tribune for running the story. Christopher Hooks of the Texas Observer notes the absurdity of one such attacker, and the response from George P.’s team:

On [September 3] Breitbart Texas released a story with a blustering title: REPORTER MISREPRESENTED GEORGE P. BUSH CLIMATE CHANGE INTERVIEW. Turns out Bush doesn’t even have to undo this—Breitbart will undo it for him.

Let’s break this apart. The Breitbart article accuses [reporter Neena Satija] of both incompetence and malice, which are, of course, really serious accusations! Firable ones, even! So I’m sure the evidence here is good. Here’s the contention: “In the article, Bush was portrayed as taking a more moderate position on climate change than the standard Republican position,” writes Sarah Rumpf, a Breitbart contributor. “Bush’s comments and positions have been seriously misrepresented.”

Did Bush take a more moderate position on climate change than the “standard Republican position” in Texas? He clearly did—compare Bush’s statements in the interview with other GOP notables, like Dan Patrick, who was once asked about climate change and responded: “Leave it in the hands of God—he’s handled our climate pretty well so far.”

Here’s the weird part: Rumpf’s primary evidence is the transcript of the interview that the Texas Tribune posted and touted on its website. So the idea, I suppose, is that the Tribune, including Satija, knew it was falsely propagandizing and then published and promoted the evidence in the hopes that people would read it.

It’s a thin hit piece that performs amazing acrobatics to leave the reader with the impression that Bush didn’t say anything about climate change…[I]n the interview transcript, there’s a section where Bush acknowledges that the earth is warming, then immediately pivots to a discussion about coastal erosion. Breitbart suggests, amazingly, that the two topics have nothing to do with each other:

For starters, Bush never attributes sea-level rise or coastal erosion to climate change. He remarks that Texas is facing challenges with coastal erosion in several areas, and discusses ways to help fight it, but does not state a cause for the erosion. Similarly, with the issue of sea-level rise, Satija asks Bush if he would support Texas conducting “a comprehensive study on the effects of sea-level rise on the Gulf Coast,” but again, a causal relationship to climate change is completely absent from Bush’s remarks.”

What are the causes of coastal erosion? The General Land Office’s own information…tells us one major cause is that “sea level is rising in relation to the land surface along the Gulf Coast. Small increases in sea level can have profound storm surge impacts in low-lying coastal areas of Texas.” The rise in sea level, the GLO tells us, is part of a global trend.

There are other factors in coastal erosion—subsidence of land, lack of sediment to nourish beaches, storms—but sea-level rise driven by a warming planet (water expands when heated; ice sheets melt) is the coast’s biggest challenge now and in the future. Bush seems to recognize this.

Perhaps Bush was only referring to other erosion factors. But he was answering a question about climate change, and raised the issue of coastal erosion. It takes a willfully thick parsing of this language to create the false impression Bush is not speaking about climate change.

The Breitbart article objects to a number of other small perceived discrepancies between the transcript and the shorter article. Here’s one: The story suggests that Bush is OK with a move away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables for reasons that include environmental concerns, and Breitbart says that’s a lie. But in the transcript Bush explicitly argues that increased use of natural gas has “been proven to result in less CO2 emissions.”

Breitbart writers wrongly claim that the Tribune article reports that Bush is kept awake at night “by climate change,” when he meant to say that he was kept awake by the threat posed by storms. “Not OK,” writes Breitbart‘s editor.

But here’s the passage from the Trib‘s article:

The 38-year-old energy consultant added that the vulnerability of Texas’ Gulf Coast to storms, which he said is worsened by climate change-related problems like sea-level rise and coastal erosion, is something that “honestly keeps me up at night.”

What’s keeping Bush up at night? It’s “the vulnerability of Texas’ Gulf Coast to storms.”

The short of it is, one reporter accused another reporter of gross negligence (taking quotes out of context) by taking quotes out of context, and not reading particularly closely. But Breitbart’s gonna Breitbart—the sadder thing is the Bush team’s fury with the idea their candidate touched on climate issues, when … he did! Here’s Bush adviser Trey Newton: “This reporter obviously had an agenda. She came in with an agenda and completely misrepresented what he [Bush] said.”

Let’s all cherish this precious week when a rejuvenating wind of spontaneity briefly entered the P. Bush campaign: It could be quite a while before it comes back.

The New Republic‘s Rebecca Leber suggested that “Bush’s statements could be a sign that the family’s next generation—and maybe even the Republican Party’s next generation—will take the issue [of carbon pollution] more seriously,” but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. When George P. Bush condemns professional climate-change deniers, the “let’s just adapt” crowd (which includes George W. Bush’s economic adviser Edward Lazear) and the billionaires who don’t want any limits on carbon pollution, then we can take him seriously as a different kind of Republican. Not before.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.