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Heartland Institute billboard: picture of Ted Kaczynsi, with text 'I still believe in global warming. Do you?'
Bye bye, little shark

Don your ceremonial Fonzie jackets, one and all, because the anti-climate-science Heartland Institute didn't just jump the shark on this one, they jumped it twice, then jumped it once more backwards, then took it to the movies for the evening, then jumped it once more with roller skates on. Yikes:

Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute point out that some of the world's most notorious criminals say they "still believe in global warming" – and ask viewers if they do, too…The billboard series features Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber; Charles Manson, a mass murderer; and Fidel Castro, a tyrant.
Already the billboard had has some effect, as Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has pulled out of Heartland's upcoming conference rather than be associated with this nuttery.

So how does this work? Hey kids, Charles Manson believes climate change is real! If you believe it, you're just like Charles Manson! Who thought up that one, did they scour drunken Young Republican house parties until they came up with the single dumbest idea any person had ever had in the history of having ideas? (Just kidding: Young Republicans do not have house parties. They have cotillions, I think.)

The result is something that I think is even more egregious than Godwin's Law. The Heartland Institute has a very long history of being wrong for money, but apparently they've given up on even the appearance of trying. What's next?

Do you breathe oxygen to live? Do you know who else breathed oxygen to live? Genghis Khan.

Adolf Hitler believed in washing his hands after pooping. Do you?

Pants-wearers through history have included Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, and that guy from The Silence of the Lambs. Don't be like those guys. Don't wear pants.

At this point, Heartland needs to come out and just admit they've lost the argument (and, incidentally, the plot. And all remaining sanity.) When your main defense is that you're more out of touch with reality than even Charlie Manson and the Unibomber were, clear out your desk, fellas, it's time to go home. Yes, a lot of companies (Microsoft? Seriously, Microsoft, what the hell you thinking on this one?) pay them good money to come up with this drivel, but at this point they're nothing more than the Rush Limbaugh of climate denialism, running around calling their opponents sluts and the like.

Now, there's little doubt that Heartland is still going to publish their ridiculous position papers claiming that climate scientists all have cooties and that the only true scientific arbiters of what's happening in the atmosphere are the good people of Exxon Mobil, but let's not pretend that they have any more credibility than these billboards. You're either based in the science or you're just peddling propaganda, and I don't think you can get more propaganda-driven than "people who believe climate scientists are just like Charlie Manson". Puh-leeze.

So let's see, what should we call this? I've got to confess Andrew Sullivan put it pretty well, saying "this is an almost perfect illustration of what has happened to the “right.” A refusal to acknowledge scientific reality; and a brutalist style of public propaganda that focuses entirely on guilt by the most extreme association." Brutalist is a rather perfect word for it; it harkens to the old Soviet propaganda efforts against their citizens, where the state was right because fuck you, that's why, and because only people who were enemies of that state would possibly think otherwise. Rather than supposedly leading the right, "think tanks" such as Heartland have merely become products of it, having to bend themselves to coarser and stupider rhetoric in this ongoing rightward quest towards perfect anti-intellectualism.

The next question would be how long the right can even hold out having "think tanks" at all. Anti-intellectualism is so strong that merely the appearance of scientific or political expertise, no matter how faked, is barely tolerated; the new conspiracy-riddled Tea Party conservatism looks on anything international or scientific as inherently suspicious, and God help you if you're ever seen as compromising on something. The old model of putting out badly premised, misleading industry-backed white papers attacking corporate regulation or anti-pollution efforts may itself be in danger: do true conservatives even bother with such things anymore? Or is comparing people to Manson or Castro the highest and best expression of movement principles?

I'm not joking on that one: I think the Koch efforts to rein in the Cato Institute and turn it more directly into a clearing house for pro-industry propaganda is a telling example of how even the most hardcore bastions of "intellectual" conservatism or libertarianism are under the same kind of assault as any random gay staffer for Mitt Romney. The new level of purity required in the movement is nearly impossible to achieve; acknowledging basic elements of climate science even in order to supposedly refute it may be soon be considered too heretical to allow. Cheap, brutalist billboard propaganda may be the wave of the industry-backed, "conservative intellectual" future. The weather is fine, damn you, and chocolate rations have increased!

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