Michele Bachman has announced that she will not run for re-election in 2014. A victory dance would, of course be unseemly. But this strikes me as good news.
In related news, Rachel Maddow’s show last night directed to our attention the remarkable fact that Bob Dole’s 1996 Presidential campaign website is is still on-line. It has, as Rachel pointed out, a time capsule feel, not just because of the old-school graphics, but because of content.
Bob Dole was the very model of the Republican career conservative politician. He was Senate Majority leader, and an effective one. He considered himself a fiscal conservative, and on his website calls for lower taxes, smaller government, a balanced budget. He was also a decent and honorable man, a genuine war hero and an effective legislator. His Presidential campaign fell short, in part because he wasn’t a particularly effective campaigner–sort of comically fond of third person locutions, among other perceived ineptitudes. “Bob Dole does not support . . . ” That kind of thing.
But look at that website, where he stood on issues. He was a huge supporter of the Americans With Disabilities Act, for example; co-sponsored the bill, and always advocated for disabled people. Supported the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. He was a very Republican kind of environmentalist, supporting the “Private Property Rights Act to ensure that the government justly compensates property owners for the “takings” of private property for public use.” Still, his environmental record was a strong one.
Women’s Issues? He strongly supported the Violence Against Women Act. Welfare: supported expanding food stamps. Education: wanted to expand student loans.
In other words, Bob Dole supported positions on a whole range of issues that would be anathema to the national Republican party today. Essentially, he’d be a Democrat today. And he knows it. On Fox News Sunday, he said scathing things about what’s happened to his party. “I think they ought to put a sign on the National Committee door that says ‘closed for repairs,’” he said. And he said that neither he nor Ronald Reagan would be welcome in today’s Republican party. “Certainly Nixon couldn’t make it today,” he said. “He had ideas.”
But who is he talking about? He didn’t make this connection, but it isn’t hard to: he’s talking about Michele Bachman and her ilk. He’s talking about the Tea Party. He is, in short, referring to the latest iteration of movement conservatism.
I don’t think it adds much to civilized discourse to call people crazy. I do think, though, there’s some value in pointing it out when national politicians say silly things. When Michele Bachman suggested (in 2008) that most members of Congress weren’t patriotic Americans–when she essentially accused Democrats of treason–that’s crazy. When she said that hurricanes and tornadoes, in 2011, were God’s punishment to the US for overspending, that’s, uh, not a serious policy statement. It’s nuts. The HPV virus does not, in fact, “cause mental retardation,” as Bachman suggested on the campaign trail, nor can gay people be turned into straight people through aversion therapy, notwithstanding her husband’s best efforts. So hearing of her retirement strikes me as a good thing.
It’s de rigueur, at this point, to say that there are equally silly people in Congress representing the left. But I don’t know that that’s true. When a neutral site like Politifact points out that 51 percent of Bachman’s public statements are factually inaccurate, that suggests that something is seriously wrong. When Bachman said recently, about Obamacare, that ‘the IRS is going to be in charge of a huge national database on health care that will include Americans personal, intimate secrets,” Politifact didn’t just call her on it, it awarded her its coveting ‘pants on fire’ designation, reserved for the most outlandish, ridiculously untrue claims.
So Andrew Sullivan’s website, The Dish, recently researched Politifact, in an effort to determine if one party or the other lied more often. His research showed a significant edge to Democrats in this category. Democratic politicians, pundits and talk show hosts just generally tended to say factually inaccurate things about a third as often as conservative media and Republican politicians do. About ten percent of public statements by Republican leaders are characterized by Politifact as ‘pants-on-fire,’ which means preposterously untrue. Less than three percent of public statements by Democrats are designated ‘pants-on-fire.’ Among pundits, it’s worse–conservative media figures get 17 percent pants-on-fire ratings, while liberals are again around 2 percent.
But see, I don’t think this suggests any kind of moral superiority for Democrats over Republicans, or liberals over conservatives. What it does suggest is that the basic philosophic underpinnings of each party’s ideology are at odds. In short, conservatives tend to believe in things that just aren’t true. And this isn’t surprising, because conservatives tend to respond to science more dismissively than liberals do, as a general thing.
Is massive planetary climate change taking place, and is it caused by humans? The scientific consensus would be, I think, that it is happening, and that human energy consumption is a causative factor. You may disagree with that conclusion, but if you do, odds are that you’re a conservative. Right?
I recently reviewed a documentary film about battles in the Texas School Board over textbook standards. Well, one of the conservatives featured in that film is a ‘new earth creationist.’ Which means, he believes that God created the Earth six thousand years ago, that Noah’s flood destroyed all life on the planet except for that saved in his ark, and that dinosaurs were among the creatures saved. I don’t want to mock the guy; that’s genuinely what he believes. But I think the scientific community would find those views, uh, inconsistent with existing evidence.
And of course most conservatives don’t share those specific theological views. But as Politifact suggests, a whole lot of conservatives do believe in things that aren’t true. A third of conservatives think, for example, that Barack Obama was born outside the US. A huge number believe that Obama was directly responsible for the terrorist attack in Benghazi, and that he ordered the IRS to target conservative groups. My Dad sometimes sends me these viral emails he gets from a friend: a veritable cornucopia of anti-Obama insanity. Obama wants to take ‘in God We Trust’ off US dollars. He refused Christmas tree ornaments, because, you know, the war on Christmas. Of course, it’s an article of faith that Obama is a socialist. Whatever that means.
Now it is certainly true that liberals believed in lots of crazy stuff back when George W. Bush was President. As someone who considers himself a sensible liberal, I well remember the fires we had to put out then. The worst was the suggestion that Bush had purposely set explosions to destroy the Twin Towers; that 9/11 was a Bush plot. I thought that suggestion was contemptible, and said so.
But what I do reject is the suggestion that all political opinions are equally valid, that there’s no such thing as truth in political discussions. I do think that perfectly decent, equally intelligent people can disagree on political issues. I think that people who disagree with me politically are often reasonable, thoughtful, good people who just happen to hold different views. But I do also think that some views not only can be but are just flat wrong.
For example, when I was in high school, my civics teacher was a brilliant man, and a wonderful teacher, who happened to believe that the US involvement in Southeast Asia was entirely justified. He believed in the domino theory. He thought that if the US allowed Vietnam to turn communist, Cambodia would be next, then Thailand, then the Phillipines. Then (ominously), Hawaii? And he was an eloquent and informed defender of those ideas. And he was wrong. Demonstrably wrong, historically wrong, provably wrong.
So today, when we look at the economy, to the simple-minded extent that two opinions exist, which we can label ‘austerity’ on the one hand and ‘stimulus’ on the other hand, reasonable, thoughtful, intelligent good people can disagree. And do. And in economics, both sides can point to various statistics to support their opinions. But eventually, one side will be proved to have gotten things right, and the other side will have been proved wrong.
In the last Presidential election, Mitt Romney was convinced that we was going to win. He said so, many times. Nate Silver, of 538.com, looked at the polling data, and said that the President was going to win re-election. Silver also predicted every Congressional and Gubernatorial race in the country. It turned out that Silver was completely right, right in every instance. He wasn’t right because he was smarter than Governor Romney or Governor Romney’s campaign staff. Silver was right because he had the facts on his side.
More and more, facts seem not to be on the side of conservatism. And one of the most egregious purveyors of misinformation, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, has announced her retirement. It’s a good day to be an American.