Saturday, August 16, 2008

Know-Nothing Politics

"The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity." -- Voltaire

My favorite economist and all-around smart guy, Paul Krugman, has a pretty good take on the politics of stupidity:

So the G.O.P. has found its issue for the 2008 election. For the next three months the party plans to keep chanting: “Drill here! Drill now! Drill here! Drill now! Four legs good, two legs bad!” O.K., I added that last part.

And the debate on energy policy has helped me find the words for something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Republicans, once hailed as the “party of ideas,” have become the party of stupid.

Now, I don’t mean that G.O.P. politicians are, on average, any dumber than their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don’t mean to question the often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”

In the case of oil, this takes the form of pretending that more drilling would produce fast relief at the gas pump. In fact, earlier this week Republicans in Congress actually claimed credit for the recent fall in oil prices: “The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking,” said Representative John Shadegg.

What about the experts at the Department of Energy who say that it would take years before offshore drilling would yield any oil at all, and that even then the effect on prices at the pump would be “insignificant”? Presumably they’re just a bunch of wimps, probably Democrats. And the Democrats, as Representative Michele Bachmann assures us, “want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, take light rail to their government jobs.”

Is this political pitch too dumb to succeed? Don’t count on it.

Remember how the Iraq war was sold. The stuff about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds was just window dressing. The main political argument was, “They attacked us, and we’re going to strike back” — and anyone who tried to point out that Saddam and Osama weren’t the same person was an effete snob who hated America, and probably looked French.

... What’s more, the politics of stupidity didn’t just appeal to the poorly informed. Bear in mind that members of the political and media elites were more pro-war than the public at large in the fall of 2002, even though the flimsiness of the case for invading Iraq should have been even more obvious to those paying close attention to the issue than it was to the average voter.

Why were the elite so hawkish? Well, I heard a number of people express privately the argument that some influential commentators made publicly — that the war was a good idea, not because Iraq posed a real threat, but because beating up someone in the Middle East, never mind who, would show Muslims that we mean business. In other words, even alleged wise men bought into the idea of macho posturing as policy.

All this is in the past. But the state of the energy debate shows that Republicans, despite Mr. Bush’s plunge into record unpopularity and their defeat in 2006, still think that know-nothing politics works. And they may be right.

Sad to say, the current drill-and-burn campaign is getting some political traction. According to one recent poll, 69 percent of Americans now favor expanded offshore drilling — and 51 percent of them believe that removing restrictions on drilling would reduce gas prices within a year.

The headway Republicans are making on this issue won’t prevent Democrats from expanding their majority in Congress, but it might limit their gains — and could conceivably swing the presidential election, where the polls show a much closer race.

In any case, remember this the next time someone calls for an end to partisanship, for working together to solve the country’s problems. It’s not going to happen — not as long as one of America’s two great parties believes that when it comes to politics, stupidity is the best policy.

Vote for whoever you want. I'm not going to try and tell you who to vote for. Just don't vote for someone for the wrong reasons. Educate yourself. Don't make a bad decision because you were misinformed. Don't rely on anyone, especially a politician, to give you the whole truth. Most of them assume you are stupid. Don't prove them right again.

"The wise understand by themselves; fools follow the reports of others" -- Tibetan proverb


wunelle said...

Paul Krugman just rocks the world. I have yet to read anything he wrote that's not well reasoned and supported.

An article in the NYTimes a couple weeks ago profiled Rush Limbaugh, who said that, as President, he would immediately propose the undoing of any government policy related to "the hoax" of global warming. This is the kind of thinking that prevails in Republican circles. The drilling in prohibited areas as a solution to the expense of filling up the Hummer seems the worst of all possible solutions.

First should be a government policy that gets us away from a carbon-based energy policy--ESPECIALLY the absolute reliance on oil, wherever it comes from. But that won't happen if we can't even first acknowledge the problem in our laps.

CyberKitten said...

*Loved* the graphic [laughs]

dbackdad said...

Wunelle - Yeah, I've always been a big Krugman fan. Used to hear him talk on Al Franken's show on Air America years ago. Plus, I've read a few of his books. It's refreshing to hear an economist that doesn't buy the typical Milton Friedman crap.

CK - Though the graphic wasn't directly relevant to the subject of my post, it amused me enough to get Republican, Intelligent Design and Stupidity in the same picture.