The race for a congressional seat in southern Indiana underscores the difficulty many people have arguing against the Tea Party or its candidates. This is especially true when it comes to climate change.

The New York Times explored a recent debate in Jasper, Ind., to showcase the arguments the Tea Party is using to unseat Democratic Rep. Baron Hill, who voted for the cap-and-trade energy bill in 2009.

To his credit — though probably not in his best political interest — Hill, who faces Tea Party-backed Todd Young, explained exactly why he voted in favor of the bill.

“It will create jobs in Indiana, reduce foreign oil imports and address global warming,” the Democrat said before committing further political suicide in the largely conservative district. The final blow likely came when he said, “Climate change is real, and man is causing it. That is indisputable. And we have to do something about it.”

According to the story, Hill’s science lingo was received with boos and a few direct comments about the Bible, redistribution of wealth and a conspiracy to create one world government. That kind of backlash is difficult for any candidate to counter — not because it's factual, but because challenging it plays right into the Tea Party’s hands.

Using science to challenge a Tea Partier’s beliefs about climate change will lead to a politician being labeled an academic elitist. Challenging a Tea Partier on his interpretation of scripture will lead to a politician being labeled secular. Challenging him on the idea that we should address threats to the planet will lead to a politician being labeled as some sort of U.N. sympathizer. Any of these labels — let alone one — is politically deadly, especially in places like Jasper, Ind..

The challenge is nearly insurmountable. Gone are the days when people can disagree without being disagreeable. We live in an age of red versus blue, Wall Street versus Main Street, secular versus religious, and isolationist versus globally minded. You can either be quiet and hope to win, or speak up and lose.

This is the challenge of politics in 2010. How the challenge is met will decide who goes to Washington and who leaves Washington — and more importantly, what ideas stick. The planet’s climate may be warming, but it appears civil discourse is cooling.

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