The Rise of the New Know-Nothings
Who would have thought we’d long for Nixon and his cronies. He may have been a crook, but he was sober and intelligent, accepted factual argument, was fiscally responsible, had a progressive side, did not refute basic science, and did not claim to carry the mantel of God. Nixon’s electoral success was in the implementation of the Southern Strategy which peeled off the entrenched anti-Lincoln elements of the Democratic Party who had been marginalized by the pro-civil rights/anti-war/environmentalist thrust of the Dems in the late ‘60s. But what he cynically used as a ploy to bring the Wallace/Thurmond Democrats into the Republican Party has morphed into an uncontrollable frenzy of anti-intellect.
It started slowly, but this drifting from reality has been a growing element of the Republican argument since the 80s. Reagan, to his credit, was successful in simplifying how we pay for government and making the tax rates more equitable—but to our lasting detriment, he severed the link between the government we buy and the government we are delivered. This intellectual and fiscal divorce created the funding predicament that has driven much debate since…all due to the dubious and unsupported assertions of trickle-down and supply-side economics. One would think the results of the economic experiment of that decade would be obvious to all—that one can borrow to mimic prosperity for a while, but not indefinitely. However, contrary to all the recent evidence, the GOP still takes it as a central tenet that tax cuts for the most prosperous pay for themselves, and all benefit. True, the holders of these beliefs rightly assert that the “rich” already pay the most in federal taxes—but fail to state the obvious follow-up that this is so due to the fact that the “rich” have most all the money. It’s tough for the less well-off to pay a greater share of the federal take—one can only squeeze a turnip so much.
Witnessing a turn-around in the economy in the 90s, and most especially the Federal fiscal situation transitioning from deficit to surplus, the GOP turned to GOD and GUNs for other arguments. One began to hear the tale that the United States was explicitly a Christian Nation, rather than a secular Nation of predominately Christians of a multitude of sects. One began to hear that the Government was out to get your guns rather than “well-regulate” their use and ownership, as required by the Bill of Rights. Both these notions, of course, would have been news to our Founding Fathers and the drafters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But I should not say “of course” in the previous sentence—that phrase would only make sense if we as a whole knew our history rather than a stylized mythology mimicking our history. But the GOP has been playing a long game. What may have started in several places as the take over the local school boards in objection to the teaching of sex education became an effort to cleanse our history class of any negative aspects, reject science that does not comport with one’s take on the Bible; in other words reject academic rigor. (Granted, there are many aspects to the deficiencies of schools throughout the country, but rejecting factual teaching and promoting myth is predominately an aspect of a wing of the GOP.) Whatever the cause, we’ve created an electorate that is woefully ignorant of science, our history, civics, and even recent events. And President Clinton’s dalliances played straight into the hands of the moralists then controlling much of the opposition, denying the Presidency to the majority vote-getter.
The electorate knows “when something is wrong”, and wants answers.
And there is always “something wrong”. Into this abyss strides talk radio and Fox News. There was certainly a need for a news outlet that highlighted more conservative views. Fox could have played an important service to the public debate and discourse—but unfortunately their agenda was somewhat different. As for talk radio, the three biggest names; Rush, Hannity, and Beck, college dropouts all, had a very simple goal. Peddling snake oil to the ignorant has always been profitable, and these three, and others, have profited immensely. Not everyone wants or should have to follow politics and economics and foreign affairs to a great degree—people have lives–ignorance of the details of policy is no shame. But they should expect that their governmental representatives, their news outlets, their opinion leaders should be straight with them and not peddle fantasy. And the biggest fantasy in the lifetime of all of us was the conflating of the tragedy of 9/11 with the lie of WMD and the threat of Hussein and Iraq. That single farce and fantasy has had multiple military, economic, and foreign policy repercussions with which we are still dealing. Granted, there were many spineless Democrats that went along with the fantasy—but mostly because they were on the wrong side of the question in the first Gulf War—an effort which certainly was justified.
So we’ve come to a point where a large minority of the electorate has fallen under the spell of GOP Presidential Candidates which in saner times would have never seen the light of day. But these candidates, individually and collectively, have counted on the priming of the anti-intellectual, factually challenged pump that the GOP establishment has been operating and taking advantage of for the past few decades. How else to explain the “birther” phenomenon, the climate change denial, the 2nd Amendment absolutism, the insistence on teaching “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to biological evolution, the categorization of citizens by creed and religion, the elevation of Christianity as the State Religion, the shear level of fear that is promulgated during what is the safest time in all the world for all humanity? Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, great thinkers both, would be aghast at the level of discourse and learning.
Bring back the Party of Eisenhower, of Nixon, of Ford, of William F. Buckley, of even Goldwater—your Party and your Country need you.