For the GOP, Ignorance Is Bliss

Whether you esteem or detest uber-liberal economist Paul Krugman, his recent OpEd column in the New York Times, The Ignorance Caucus, is worth reading. (http://goo.gl/ftqjy) It lays bare particular characteristics of the Republican Party that makes them unfit to govern in this era when technology and science are the keys to the nation’s economic future. Basically, Republicans don’t like science and don’t like data, particularly when the information derived may lead to conclusions that contradict their commonly held truths. (For example: the sun revolves around the earth and the universe is only 6000 years old.)

An actual example is the Republicans trying to block “comparative effectiveness research” by Medicare or other government agencies. Given that health care expenditures consume an ever increasing proportion of our GDP and that Medicare spending is a major driver of our national debt, it would seem to be a no-brainer that members of both parties would want to find out which treatments for various diseases work best and are cost effective. Eliminating medications, procedures, other therapies, and tests that are of no benefit to patients could save Medicare huge sums and help reduce the debt. The GOP wants treatment decisions left in physicians and patients’ hands, which is fine. But why not give them as much information as possible to help them make the right decisions. Of course, this might reduce profits at pharmaceutical and medical instrument companies, and decrease the incomes of some physicians and hospitals, stakeholders in the health care industry that are major Republican supporters.

Climate change is another area where Republicans refuse to believe the overwhelming majority of scientists who insist that global warming is a real phenomenon to which human activity, articularly the use of fossil fuels, contributes significantly. In addition to disregarding the evidence already accumulated that bolsters this concept, Republicans do not want to fund any additional climate research which they fear will lend further reinforcement to man’s role in global warming. It is probably just coincidental that the fossil fuel industries are major financial contributors to the coffers of the Republican Party.

Republicans also want to end government funding of social science research and do not want the Centers for Disease Control to do research on gun violence. Data on the epidemiology of gun violence might provide statistics showing that the type of weapons sold or the availability of high capacity gun magazines do play a role in gun violence and deaths. We don’t know if this is true or not, but the GOP does not want to find out, because the conclusions of studies on the subject could offend the NRA, who also coincidentally happen to be main allies of the Republican Party.

These are just a few examples of Republican hostility towards science and scientific data. In addition, they refuse to believe that the economy can thrive with higher taxes even though past data shows this to be true. As an illustration of the kind of non-data driven science some Republicans accept, the comments of candidate Todd Akin in the Missouri Senate race stand out, when he said that legitimate rape rarely results in a woman becoming pregnant.

Krugman’s article mentions that the Texas GOP last year denounced the teaching of “critical thinking skills” because these “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Sounds like some Republicans and Islamic fundamentalists have a lot in common in their opposition to modern science and critical thinking, supporting “fixed beliefs” even if they have no scientific foundation. Maybe the sun does revolve around the earth after all.

Resurrecting Democracy

A Vietnam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.

Image by Shutterstock.com

Author: ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

Political junkie, Vietnam vet, neurologist- two books on aging and dementia. Last book on health care reform- Shock Therapy for the American Health Care System. New book on the need for a centrist third party- Resurrecting Democracy- A Citizen's Call for a Centrist Third Party- will be available early October 2011

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30 Comments

  1. These are a nice list of the reasons that the GOP has really come to bother me lately. I realize I sound like a flaming liberal these last few years, and I really don’t think I am. Its just the right has moved so far right, and seems to support such really poorly thought out things that I just can’t get anywhere near to being on board with their ideas. They have been aggressively divorcing themselves from making decisions based on evidence and that kind of thinking really worries me. The dems have their flaws, but at least their mistakes seem to come from a place of trying to improve things and help those who need it as opposed to simple narcissism.

  2. The Dark Ages are alive and unwell in the republican mindset. Of course if you are a member in good standing of today’s GOP this mindset is considered a good thing – which of course goes to the title of RL’s piece. It’s hard to describe just how discouraging this is for people who believe in the power of the intellect and the evolution of reason. So much for all the great strides our society made during the 20th century..

  3. I would like to modify my above statement about where the dems flaws stem from. Overall policy I meant what i said, but the Dem leadership, specifically Reid, often act like spoiled children who don’t know what to do with the ball when they get it. They lack cohesiveness that the GOP seems to have in spades. Or used to.

  4. denounced the teaching of “critical thinking skills” because these “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    That is crazy talk. That is cult thinking.

    again I will write…

    We have socially evolved past the need for organized religion. It is now only holding us back.

  5. Wahhh, get rid of those bad guys, Krugman.

  6. Well this is accurate but these people were elected by people who for the most part think like they do. They want to get re-elected so they have to keep spouting the same nonsense. We can’t get rid of all these people but I suspect in some districts and some states if properly targeted some of these people could be turned out in the coming election cycles. This should lead to more moderate Republicans or Democrats. The objective should be to get rid of the far right tea party types.

  7. I think I agree with Slamfu. I used to see myself as a centrist, until I realized that the GOP had moved so far to the right, that I was now a flaming liberal because I believed in evolution, man-made global warming, and in questioning authority. I also came to see gay rights as a constitutional rights issue and have always felt that abortion should be rare but safe and legal.
    Republicans don’t deal with the future in a constructive way and seem to oppose rational change in every instance. A small example is the hi-efficiency light bulb, which they characterized as government mandating how we live our lives. Same deal with rational gun laws.
    IMO, they have proven that they are unfit to govern, because they force their politicians to adopt a rigid ideology, that doesn’t work in the real world.

  8. Comment

    the Texas GOP last year denounced the teaching of “critical thinking skills” because these “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Sounds like some Republicans and Islamic fundamentalists have a lot in common in their opposition to modern science and critical thinking, supporting “fixed beliefs” even if they have no scientific foundation. Maybe the sun does revolve around the earth after all

    This is so heinous, that it leaves me almost speechless. Why get an education at all if it is not to learn to question authority and established doctrine??
    Why not just keep your kids at home and have them absorbed in Bible study for 5 hours a day??

  9. Gee, dduck, care to address the arguments being made?

  10. The article implies more than narrow and backward thinking. It also implies ( or rather points directly to) bribery, and how these insane beliefs can be bought for the right price. Are they fabricating rationalizations because they are in bed with the healthcare lobbyists, the NRA and gun mfgs,the oil industry etc.? Is it really just all about money? Do they have an ignorant enough base to make it sound like they really believe these stupid things…or do they really believe them and are in fact just truly stupid? Probably both, but there us a dangerous element of being “crazy like a fox” in the party.

  11. JS, They were more charges and blanket insults made with a broad brush. Your point is well taken, but how can a mere Rep with little science or morals mount an adequate rebuttal. Perhaps another day.
    BTW: I almost always enjoy RAL’s posts, but this one does not do it for me. So, in addition to my above cowardly non-response to the “arguments”, I decline your kind invitation.

  12. Duck,

    The condemnation in this article, as I read it, seems directed more to the irrational radical right than to moderate thinking Republicans like you. Just my .02, as someone around here is fond of saying.

    tidbits

  13. ES, I guess I can’t see that, although Akin and Texas were mentioned, it ain’t enough for me.

  14. The condemnation in this article, as I read it, seems directed more to the irrational radical right than to moderate thinking Republicans…

    I agree tidbits it’s the ‘irrationals’ from both sides that need to be questioned, not by those from ‘the other side’ as they’re/we’re easy to dismiss, but by the people from their own party… From their peers.

    I’m always (almost always anyhow) surprised when those who claim to be “moderate republicans / democrats’ either defend the radicals in their party or seem to be are unable to see what it is that others are talking about.

  15. It’s tough being a Republican in this time. I left in the 90′s after the religious right highjacked the state party and took it away from the principles of tolerance and individual rights I held to.

    Of course, I used to host lunches for Mark Hatfield everytime he ran and he wasn’t exactly a righty. He insisted on a public accomodations law as Governor in ’53, 12 years before the national civil rights act. He was also pro-environment and a strong supporter of scientific research. The National Institutes of Health have a building named in his honor as does the local Health and Sciences University.

    He opposed school prayer even though he was a devout Baptist. He opposed the death penalty and had the courage to vote against the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Balanced Budget Constitutional amendment which he believed would hamstring the nation’s economy.

    A sad memory for me was flying to D. C. in ’96 to host a retirement dinner for him. After 30 years in the Senate, members of his own party, then veering hard right, barely showed. Most of the tables were peopled by Democrats he had worked with over the years. There was a time when you didn’t have to drink the tea to be a Republican. You’ve more perserverance than I, Duck, if you’re still with them.

  16. ES, remember, I am in NY and it’s way different here. Remember the spirit of Rockefeller still wanders about. If I lived in some states, I might even be a Dem.

  17. I think the point about being “unfit to govern” applies specifically to those who are governing, dduck. There aren’t many GOP leaders I can think of currently in the business of governing that don’t do what Krugman is saying they do. Can you? (Totally happy to be proven wrong here, btw — not just being rhetorical.) Sure, there are plenty of science-conscious, data-driven Republicans around. They just don’t seem to be anywhere in the leadership of the party. How many Republicans in office today would be able to say “I believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old”, or “Yep, climate change is real, and humans have at least some part in its cause”? Again, if you know of some, I’m all ears.

  18. “How many Republicans in office today would be able to say “I believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old”

    Interesting. I couldn’t support anyone in office or who was running for office who didn’t understand what science has suggested about the age of the Earth. I haven’t read a roll call on this, but I would guess, virtually all Republicans in office would agree with your statement.

  19. Definitely NOT “virtually all”. A few, perhaps. Generally admitting the earth is that old means admitting evolution exists. Romney and Huntsman were the only presidential candidates of the 2012 elections who would admit to some belief in evolution. Neither currently hold office, and Romney somewhat walked that belief back during the campaign anyway, prefering to “teach both sides”.

  20. I differentiate between republican leadership and the republican flock. The former should be held to a higher standard and ought to know better. I assume most ordinary citizen republicans are decent people who suffer the poor judgement of being loyal to an obsolete and backward ideology. OK, enough ego pampering; Krugman hits the nail on the head – sorry to say.

  21. roro80, can you direct me to facts that show that the majority of Republican leadership doesn’t believe the Earth is billions of years old? I have tried but I can’t find it. I want to spread the word but want bto be careful not to spread something that may not be true.

  22. KP, you might be able to find something at On The Issues.Org. It is website that shows how every lawmaker has voted on different issues. Of course you would have to know which bill contained the language or possible addendum you would be looking for. My guess is, if you found bills relating to school prayer, you would be close enough.

  23. Imagine America without fox news..
    half a nation, millions upon millions ..
    unmisinformed.

  24. I think a better question than how old the earth is (were you there?), because in fact it is 4.73 billion years give or take 100 million, is how old is politics?
    Some of these guys would promise to sell you their grandmothers (alive or dead) and some would actually deliver. Point is they are all full of it. One day they they say one thing to please somebody with money or votes, and the next they will switch. Currently the spotlight is deservedly on the Reps, but they are going to evolve in many, not all, parts of the country because survival is a strong motivation.

  25. at a different angle…

    I would propose to these haters of critical thinking that it is the critical questioning of one’s beliefs that brings a greater and deeper understanding of a greater power, which in turns strengthens one’s faith.

    simply believing what mommy and daddy taught you does not bring you closer to god.

  26. Some people, a lot of them, are bad at handling and using abstract concepts. Some people don’t want to think too hard about stuff. Religion allows the world to be explained in a very straightforward way. That will never go out of style for a large chunk of the human population.

  27. KP — Sorry for the delayed reply, busy day. Anyway, almost all politicians have a stated position on whether evolution should be taught in schools, and the question of whether the candidates believe in evolution or not is one asked directly of all the GOP candidates in one of the primary debates in election 2012, so those are easily searchable. It’s not an exact correlation, perhaps, with what age they would give to the Earth, but it’s a pretty good indicator.

    As for dducks concern — that politicians believe different things than they say — I will give my standard answer. I don’t give two sh*ts what’s in their soul, what truth they think they know in their hearts. If they say they don’t believe in evolution, and legislate as if they don’t believe in evolution, it really doesn’t matter to me if they’re doing that because it’s what they actually believe, or if it’s what they think will get them re-elected. That leaves me with: (a) doesn’t believe in science, therefore unfit to lead, or (b) willing to lie and foment intolerance and stupidity for political gain. Either way: nope!

  28. dduck — I’m fairly certain it’s 4.54B years. I rounded down, as I certainly wouldn’t require the candidate know to that many significant digits, nor with error bars, in order to be convinced that he or she does not believe the Earth to be 6000 years old. I do understand not everyone is such a big nerd as I am.

  29. Just checked, and wiki thinks it’s 4.54B. And yes, obviously I was there. :)

  30. If you say so. :-)

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