There’s no Tea in Sanity

Tea-Party-MeetingBrad Plumer writes that the GOP party-wide rush to denounce climate change is being driven by a small minority of fervent Tea Party types.  While it’s an interesting read in its own right, there’s a larger subtext I find downright frightening.  There’s no reason to suppose these findings are limited to their climate fantasies.

Two points struck me:

Researchers on cognitive social networks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently found that “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”


Tea Partiers are also by far the most confident in their beliefs — more likely to say they are “very well informed” and that they “do not need any more information about global warming.” Note that this dovetails with earlier research finding that when you give those dismissive of global warming more information, it only serves to harden their doubts.

Self-identified Tea Party types make up just 12 percent of the population.  But that’s apparently enough to give them and their warped reality sway over public opinion and policy.  And there’s apparently little the rest of us can do to induce any sanity on them either.  The more we dump rational arguments and data on them, the further convinced they are about their delusions.

Are we doomed to the anti-science Christian theocracy they envision?  A world where our money is tied to gold, the government is apathetic to your plight, education is relegated to kitchen tables and churches, corporations are free to pollute their way to profits, unions don’t exist, and medical care will only be available to those with enough chickens to trade for it?

I’m certainly not expecting the GOP debate tonight to dissuade my fears.

Primetime on The Potomac Shore

Rep. Jim Cooper
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)

NY Times columnist Joe Nocera recounts the tale of whom he calls the last moderate in Congress.  Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is an unabashed Blue-Dog Democrat with a sobering perspective on the dysfunction that exists under the Capitol Dome.

To Cooper, the true villain is not the Tea Party; it’s Newt Gingrich. In the 1980s, when Tip O’Neill was speaker of the House, “Congress was functional,” Cooper told me. “Committees worked. Tip saw his role as speaker of the whole House, not just the Democrats.”


Gingrich was a new kind of speaker: deeply partisan and startlingly power-hungry. “His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it,” Cooper recalled. “This was his way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today,” he added, “the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they’re voting on.”


“This is not a collegial body anymore,” he said. “It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred. They believe the worst lies about the other side. Two senators stopped by my office just a few hours ago. Why? They had a plot to nail somebody on the other side. That’s what Congress has come to.”

I’d like to be shocked, but this is simply confirming the obvious truths we are loathe to accept… loathe because in principle the government is us. It is of, by, and for the people.  Unfortunately, rather than the best in us, Congress has come to manifest the darkness in our souls most of us dare not show the world.

In many respects, it it simply another embodiment of Reality TV…  an endless parade of backstabbing, bitch-slapping, and name calling.  A performance we profess to hate, but in practice, won’t turn off.  And as much as I’d like to fault all the Congressional Snooki wannabees out there, ultimately we are the ones responsible for the “success” of The Potomac Shore.

[thanks to MB for finding Nocera’s NY Times column]

What 2013 Brings…

2013It seems pretty clear that nothing much useful will happen in Washington until the 2012 elections are over.  As Senate Leader Mitch McConnell put it so succinctly, Job 1 for the GOP is to make sure Obama is a one-term President.  All legislative actions or inactions up to the elections are dedicated to that goal, irrespective of the implications to the economy or the well-being of the country.  If you think that’s not how it’s playing out, then… well… you just aren’t paying attention.

But what about after the elections?  What happens then?  On the Congressional side, probably pretty little.  It’s highly unlikely either party will take both a House majority and a Senate super majority such that they hold dominion over the whole of Congress.  This means that in any scenario, the GOP may at least continue to be the party of “no” if they so choose.

So it all basically comes down to the race for the White House.  Come 2013, either Obama will be a second-term President, or we will experience the administration of Republican President [insert name here].  Clearly, if [insert name here] is elected, then the Congressional GOP will be all about getting things done.  But should it be Obama again, will the GOP lessen it’s determination to play for politics rather than in the interest of the country?  History would suggest they won’t.

Even though Obama would not be eligible for a third term, a successful second Obama term could reflect well on whatever Democrat runs in 2016.  And the GOP will be ever more committed to taking the White House back in 2016.  That will be their new Job 1.  Recall that the GOP witch hunt against Clinton did not let up during his second term.  Hell, they impeached him in the middle of that term.

For all intents and purposes, since the Clinton administration the GOP acts as if they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of a Democratic President.  Under Obama, they have taken it to new levels.  Rather than simply attacking the man, which was the primary Clinton-era strategy, they now attack the country.  The GOP correctly recognizes that the President is held responsible for the well-being of the country, be it good or bad, and they use that to their advantage.  They have demonstrated repeatedly they are willing to take the country hostage for political gain.

The 2012 elections will be more of the same.  Essentially the message is that we can elect Republicans or we can suffer for four more years, and they will see to that.

This is not an assertion that Democratic policies are good and Republican policies are bad.  Nor is this an assertion that Democrats are pure and chaste while Republicans are corrupt and evil.

We operate in a society governed essentially by the cooperation of two parties who compete, but play amicably with each other.  In many ways the game is the thing.  For the fans, it’s not about who wins or loses, but that the game goes on.  Everyone likes to see their team win, but there is still value to the game even in a loss, and there is always the prospect of the next game.  But if one team starts playing outside the conventional rules to rig the outcome. If one team starts saying that if they don’t win, then they’ll take their ball and go home.  Then the game loses its value… and we all suffer as a result.

We have reached a point where as fans we need to force the teams to start playing by the conventional rules.  We must demand that while we expect them to play their hearts out, we ultimately expect them to play for the love of the sport, not simply for victory.  Or the alternative may be we need to just dump this sport altogether and start playing a new one.