Obama Has a Response to Republicans’ ‘I Am Not a Scientist’ Line

It’s a long string of jokes.

US President Barack Obama speaks about a Menurkey, a combination of a menorah and turkey honoring this year's shared dates of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah during a Hanukkah reception in the Grand Foyer of the White House December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama addressed the event behind held on the last day of Hanukkah . AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Lucia Graves
June 26, 2014, 5:34 a.m.

Too of­ten in life when someone in­sults your in­tel­li­gence or levels some oth­er sting­ing verbal at­tack, the best re­sponses present them­selves hours, even days, too late to be use­ful. The French have a term for it: L’es­prit de l’es­cal­i­er (stair­case wit).

One of the be­ne­fits of be­ing pres­id­ent of the free world is you can de­ploy a team of speech­writers to help you think of the per­fect comebacks, and whenev­er you’re ready to dish your witty re­torts, the na­tion­al press will line up to broad­cast your zingers.

That was pre­cisely the situ­ation Wed­nes­day night, when Pres­id­ent Obama, speak­ing at the an­nu­al din­ner of the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters, lit in­to GOP cli­mate skep­tics with a bar­rage of funny put-downs.

“It’s pretty rare that you en­counter people who say that the prob­lem of car­bon pol­lu­tion is not a prob­lem,” Obama told an audi­ence of sev­er­al hun­dred gathered in Wash­ing­ton’s Ron­ald Re­agan build­ing. “In most com­munit­ies and work­places, they may not know how big a prob­lem it is, they may not know ex­actly how it works, they may doubt they can do something about it. Gen­er­ally they don’t just say, ‘No I don’t be­lieve any­thing sci­ent­ists say.’ Ex­cept, where? Con­gress!”

“In Con­gress,” he ad­ded, “folks will tell you cli­mate change is hoax or a fad or a plot. A lib­er­al plot.”

Then there are those who if pressed about cli­mate “duck the ques­tion and say, ‘Hey, I’m not a sci­ent­ist,’ which really trans­lates in­to: ‘I ac­cept that man-made cli­mate change is real, but if I say so I will be run out of town by a bunch of fringe ele­ments,’ ” he said. “So I am just go­ing to pre­tend like — I don’t know — I can’t read.”

The jokes snow­balled from there.

“I mean, I’m not a sci­ent­ist either, but I’ve got this guy, John Hold­ren, he’s a sci­ent­ist. I’ve got a bunch of sci­ent­ists at NASA and I’ve got a bunch of sci­ent­ists at EPA.”

“I’m not a doc­tor either, but if a bunch of doc­tors tell me that to­bacco can cause lung can­cer then I’ll say, ‘OK!’ It’s not that hard.”

“I’m not a sci­ent­ist, but I read the sci­ence.”

It’s the second time in re­cent days Obama has mocked Re­pub­lic­ans for al­legedly be­ing an­ti­science. Earli­er this month, while speak­ing at the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Irvine), Obama com­pared Re­pub­lic­ans’ po­s­i­tions on cli­mate change to be­liev­ing the moon was made of cheese, and he tested out a num­ber of the lines above.

Gene Kar­p­in­ski, the pres­id­ent of the en­vir­on­ment­al group host­ing the event, told Na­tion­al Journ­al at the din­ner that Obama’s mock­ing tone was “totally ap­pro­pri­ate.” And Keith Gaby, who, in his work as com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Fund, has been en­cour­aging en­vir­on­ment­al­ists to make bet­ter use of hu­mor, went fur­ther with his praise.

“I think hu­mor is a good way to get people who aren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion to take no­tice of an is­sue, par­tic­u­larly one like cli­mate change that has the repu­ta­tion of earn­est ser­i­ous­ness,” Gaby said in an email. “It’s very much the same strategy the Pres­id­ent used when he went on Between Two Ferns to talk about health care. A lot of young people tune out polit­ics, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about their fu­ture — so you try to reach them through oth­er meth­ods, like hu­mor.”

Comedi­ans have long struggled to find much hu­mor value in en­vir­on­ment­al­ism, and if Al Gore is any in­dic­a­tion, it doesn’t come nat­ur­ally to most evan­gel­ists. But at the din­ner last night, en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists were eat­ing it up, whoop­ing and holler­ing and pump­ing their arms.

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