The anti-intellectual bent of the Republican Party is really nothing new. It seems that Republicans have only had to act completely obtuse to demonstrate their conservative bona fides since the first election of George W. Bush. In my opinion, W. is the true father of the anti-fact culture that is currently flourishing in the Republican primaries.
So what’s the crime in being wary of poly-syllabic words and complex concepts? Some might consider my thesis incredibly cynical, but I believe that it’s all a very shrewd strategy to gain even more electoral advantage among the less educated, blue-collar segment of the population (than guns, gays and abortion already do). I would argue that George W. Bush created a strategic art form in both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns when running against the quintessential, pointy-headed liberals in the persons of Al Gore and John Kerry respectively. The media and pollsters, perhaps unwittingly, got in on the ruse when asking the public in various polls, “Who would you rather have a beer with?” Or as I prefer, pointy-headed liberal that I am, “With whom would you rather have a beer?” The real meaning of that question seems apparent: Who would better understand my problems? The answer in 2000 and 2004 was Bush, who, amazingly to liberals, was twice elected. For Bush, his Joe Lunchbox act was just that: an act. In reality, Bush, an ultra-wealthy New England transplant and grandson of a Senator and son of a Vice President and President, was an Ivy league educated (Yale and Harvard) and politically savvy individual who was able to hoodwink more than half of the voting public into believing that he was just a simple good ole’ boy who shared their values and was just like them.
Unfortunately, this anti-intellectual strain in the GOP didn’t end with W; in fact, quite the contrary is true. Today, it’s a formidable force in the Republican presidential primary campaign. And more dangerously, it has morphed into an anti-fact/anti-knowledge movement and the implications for America just might be catastrophic.
Aside from the insignificant candidacy of Jon Huntsman, all of the other GOP contenders refute the fact-based and cogent science of man-made climate change. Approximately 98% of climate change scientists agree that man is changing the climate in an adverse way, and will continue to do so at his imminent peril unless steps are taken to avert an impending crisis. And even Jon Huntsman had to walk back his reasonable, science-based position that man-made climate change is indeed a fact, after being pressured by his own advisors and conservative groups to do so. In addition, both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have flipped to the anti-intellectual position of condemning the science of climate change as flawed and unproven to compete in the hard right Republican presidential primaries. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Romney flops back to his pre-nomination-seeking position for the general election, to appeal to more reasonable independent voters and disenfranchised Democrats. It’s not likely, however, since he would lose his anti-fact right-wing base in droves. Mr. Gingrich, knowing the political implications of dealing in reality, recently excluded a fact-based chapter on climate change from an upcoming publication.
Just as irksome, but perhaps not as dangerous, is the Right’s claim that creation is a theory like evolution, and should thusly be taught in schools side by side with it in science classes. The problem with that characterization is that one theory is fact-based and scientific (that would be evolution), and the other is faith-based theology that in most ways contradicts what was until recently generally accepted science. When our current public figures support such overtly religious (Christian, to be precise) views, either because they themselves believe it, or more cynically, for political expedience, it makes for a worrisome precedent (and President). Not to mention the effect such teachings might have on future biologists in this country!
What makes it particularly egregious when well-educated public figures dismiss such facts as climate change and the process of evolution as apocryphal, is that they speak with authority to those who believe they have shared values with the messenger, and therefore any kind of intelligent analysis is waived. If they repeat the falsehood long and loud enough (via Fox News, let’s say), it inevitably seeps into the mainstream of thought, ultimately creating more support for the position and those that promulgate it. A worrisome precedent/President indeed…