Marco Rubio and the age of the Earth

GQ has published an interview with rising Republican star Marco Rubio, currently a U.S. senator from Florida but much-discussed as a presidential contender for 2016, in which the following question was asked:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that.

At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

The intent of the question is clearly to trip Rubio up and produce a “religious nut job” quote.  (He might have done better to halt his answer after the first time he correctly noted that it’s politically irrelevant and he’s not academically qualified to answer it, instead of continuing into a short discourse about creationism.)  The bit about the age of the Earth comes out of nowhere during the interview; the preceding question was, “You were obviously very moved by your grandfather’s dignity and your father’s dignity. What are the qualities that would qualify for a man to have dignity?”  The subsequent question was about divisive social issues, and Rubio had an interesting answer:

GQ: You talk a lot to young Republicans. Recently I met a Republican who said, my kids are in high school and there’s a prom. There’s straight kids, gay kids. It’s no big deal to them. And he says, my party, the Republican party, has to stop putting these social issues out there and talking more about stuff that effects people.

Marco Rubio: I think that’s unfair. A significant percentage of Americans feel very strongly about this issue. What I’m hearing is that it’s ok for one side to express their view and the other side needs to be quiet. There are a very significant number of Americans that feel very strongly about the issue of life, about the issue of marriage and are we saying that they should be silenced or not allowed to speak or voice their opinion? There’s a way to do that that is respectful and productive. There are things we’ll always disagree on, but it doesn’t mean we go to war over them or divide our country over them. We agree to disagree, but we continue to work together on the things we all know that we have to do.

(Emphasis mine.)  That’s exactly what all of this is about.  Rubio has named the game, and correctly defined the core rules.  It’s all about finding wedge issues where people have been instructed that it’s not okay to “agree to disagree.”  The same-sex marriage movement doesn’t convey any sense that it finds itself engaged in heartfelt discourse over a difficult subject with honorable opponents.  If you disagree with them, you shouldn’t even be allowed to sell chicken sandwiches.

In a somewhat similar vein, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was burned to the ground because he gave an honest answer to a difficult question, to which he devoted serious thought: allowing abortion for children conceived through sexual assault.  Agreement with Mourdock’s position was not necessary to give him credit for candor and moral gravity.  But he was issued no such line of credit.  He was immediately caricatured as having said that God ordains rape, and folded into the orchestrated national “War on Women” narrative.  Efforts were made to surgically attach him to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who instantly and politely declared that he disagreed with Mourdock’s position, but was nevertheless re-cast as Mourdock’s Siamese twin.

What you’re seeing here is a concentrated effort to create revulsion to a culture, rather than the serious discussion of specific issues.  It’s a culture of supposedly oppressive religious fanaticism that doesn’t have “legitimate” views on much of anything.  Important points of specific disagreement are deliberately erased, so that every pro-lifer is portrayed as marching in lockstep with Richard Mourdock or Missouri candidate Todd Akin, even though most of them disagree about permitting abortion in cases of rape.

The Left is convinced, and not without electoral evidence, that it has made this culture radioactive enough to win elections based largely on the reflexive revulsion of disinterested voters and cultural liberals.  (Funny how fast the second half of “I’m a social liberal but a fiscal conservative” evaporates when the chips are down in a historic election, isn’t it?)

It remains to be seen if Marco Rubio’s entirely reasonable “I’m not a scientist” answer to GQ’s silly question will be sufficient to keep him away from the social-issue abyss.  He might have been better served by questioning the fundamental premises and strategy of the question, Newt Gingrich-style: “What does that have to do with anything, and why are you wasting time in an interview with a politician by asking him about geology?”  Or maybe every Republican candidate should come to these interviews armed with smart-aleck answers designed to disarm the question: “Wow, that’s a good question.  How old do you think it is?  I was just reading some interesting new research that the conventionally-accepted 4.5 billion years might be a bit low…”

Or maybe every Republican should simply recite Barack Obama’s answer, when he was asked during the Saddleback Church forum in 2008 when human life begins: “Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.”  Just repeat that quote, word for word… and if the reporter doesn’t like it, ask why it was an acceptable answer from Obama on the far more politically and morally relevant issue of when life begins and ends, a process over which society actually does have some control.