Politics & Policy

The Kennedys Recognize a Former GOP Congressman for His ‘Courageous’ Flip-Flop on Climate Change

(Spencer Platt/Getty)

Finally: Someone is being recognized for going against the grain and showing the courage of their convictions to decry the Tea Party and sound the alarm on climate change.

Bob Inglis, a former Republican House member from South Carolina, will receive this year’s Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum at a ceremony next month for declaring his belief in climate change while in office.

Past award winners have accomplished similarly impressive feats. Last year’s recipient, former president George H. W. Bush, was honored for breaking his famous “read my lips” campaign promise and opting to raise taxes. Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) once won the award for championing campaign-finance reform, a political risk so great that he has since gone on to eke out multiple reelections and mount two presidential bids.

#related#Inglis is just as worthy of a spot in this exalted pantheon of Republicans who just so happened to publicly buck their own party and stand with the nation’s true Little Guys — the Kennedy family and their acolytes. For starters, it’s a courageous man indeed who eschews his self-imposed term limits, only to run for and return to office the next time his old seat opens up. After serving from 1993 to 1999, Inglis chose to run again in his western Palmetto State district in 2004, and won after successor – and then predecessor – Jim DeMint moved on to the Senate. It was during this second stint in office that Inglis cemented his place in the Kennedys’ Valhalla.

In 2010, Inglis found himself in danger of losing to an upstart district solicitor, Trey Gowdy, in the Republican-primary runoff, after he had spent recent years repeatedly opposing and antagonizing his party and constituents, most notably on the issue of climate change. He’d go on to lose to Gowdy, 70 percent to 30 percent.

After losing in the runoff, he sat down with Mother Jones’s Washington bureau chief, David Corn. In his interview with the left-leaning magazine, Inglis spoke out against the tea-party movement and warned his party and its leadership about embracing it. He sprinkled in suggestions of racism and anti-Semitism, described the constituents and donors who turned on him as a bunch of “Glenn Beck watchers,” and urged them to “turn off” the conservative host. He recalled finding some locals so “frightening” in their extremism that they made him feel like the victim in Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery,” in which a fictional town selects one person to be stoned to death every year.

Since leaving Congress, Inglis has gone on to establish the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. The EEI “encourages conservatives to accept the reality of climate change and to promote free enterprise innovations,” according to the Associated Press.

To his credit, he has taken a relatively free-market approach to the issue. While in office, Inglis voted against the “hopelessly complicated” cap-and-trade legislation, and he thinks all energy subsidies, whether for fossil-fuel or green-energy companies, should be eliminated. But a completely hands-off, government-free approach isn’t quite what Inglis envisions either. Instead, he has pushed for a national carbon tax, to be offset with tax cuts elsewhere. Unfortunately, he laments, he knows that his former peers will oppose anything with “the t-word” (taxes) in it. He appeals to what he calls “bedrock conservatism,” invoking Biblical teaching: “I shouldn’t be able to do on my property something that harms you and your property.”

That sort of spiritual examination is what prompted Inglis to speak out on climate change. The man who once urged his Republican colleagues to “lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness” when it came to accepting stimulus money for their states has thanked divine intervention for his recent revelations.

“Washington hasn’t changed me; God’s grace is changing me,” he told the Wall Street Journal during the final months of his last campaign. At the same time, though, he has blamed conservatives’ adherence to religion as preventing them from accepting climate change, explaining that “scientists are seen as godless deniers of the truth” whose findings are “an affront to that theological view” of religious conservatives.

Now, he’s finally earning proper recognition for all the hardships he endured as a member of “the party of ‘we don’t believe in science.’”

Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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