Archive for September 20, 2010
If we want to be an actual, legitimate “shadow blog,” I guess (sigh) we need to formally address the issue of the Tea Party, since Nate is now tackling that naughty problem (sorry, I meant knotty problem, I must have been thinking about Christine O’Donnell) over on his front page.
There’s really no telling what the coming election will bring, Tea-Party-wise, though theories abound. What will potential Teaper successes mean for the American political landscape? I foresee only two possibilities in that event… either they will become a legitimate third party, or they will drag the existing Republican party significantly to the right. Either result will, I think, mark the beginning of quite a long period in the desert for the GOP.
More interesting is what consequences we might see from electoral failures caused by off-putting Teaper activism…to say nothing of really, really weird candidates. Again, theories abound. Right here at Logarchism, shrinkers thinks the Teapers will be simply emboldened by any tiny success and use the victimhood aspect of defeat to their advantage, and they will just keep…on…coming…at…you. I disagree. I think if they are seen as sabotaging this huge opportunity for Republicans, the furious weight of the right-wing establishment will come down on them with crushing force and we’ll barely hear a muffled squeak out of them afterward.
Nate, that sly diplomat, is straddling the fence:
If Republican candidates do well on Election Day — and particularly if Tea Party-backed candidates like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sharron Angle of Nevada win their races — the Tea Party will be credited with having revived a moribund Republican Party. But if the Republicans fail to live up to expectations — and expectations are exceedingly high — the Tea Party will be blamed for curbing the Republicans’ ability to capitalize on historic levels of voter dissatisfaction.”
Still, I believe Nate is coming down somewhat more on my side than shrinkers. He IS… isn’t he?
I’m interested in what all of you think on two fronts: how will the Teapers impact the coming election…will their contribution ultimately turn out to be a net positive or negative? And looking ahead, what impact (if any) do you think they will have on the national scene going into 2012 and beyond?
All opinions welcome. References to witchcraft, dinosaurs, birth certificates and 2nd Amendment Remedies warmly encouraged.
Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You’ve got to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man behind a counter who says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone; but you’ll have to give up privacy, the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote; you lose the right to retreat behind a powder-puff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!’
– Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Remember the summer of 2008. We dared hope a black man could be elected president. After the long, dark years of a Republican Administration – perhaps the most inept and damaging administration in our nation’s history – we dared hope the world was about to change.
Go to YouTube, and listen to Dave Stewart’s “American Prayer”, and see if you can’t recapture, for just a moment, that season of awe and wonder.
That was the summer many of us discovered Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. The math, after a while, seemed undeniable – but we’d all been fooled before. Then, when Barack Obama actually won, it amazed, it thrilled, it excited. Do you remember watching the rally in Chicago on election night? Can you return to that moment, even for an instant?
By the following summer, things already had changed, not always for the better. The Summer of Hope gave way to the Summer of Town Hall Riots. The backlash was in full swing. Never underestimate the human capacity to misrepresent and to bear false witness.
In the midst of the attempt to follow through on the signature promise of the campaign, the crowning achievement of three generations of Democratic presidents – real health care reform – the response from the right was nothing short of insane. But we should have expected it. Progress has never been a bargain.
But health care reform was enacted, the biggest and most exciting change in public policy since the 1940’s. Yet it was embedded in a toxic political atmosphere, and in the midst of the worst worldwide economic crisis in nearly a century. it required compromise. It was not all we’d wanted. Yet the fear-based response of the right continued to mount.
Thus we came to the summer of 2010, the Summer of the Tea Party Rebellion. The world has indeed changed. Children growing up today will live in an America that has always had a black president. The Democratic majority in Congress, large as it was, never had a coherency or discipline. For a brief six months, there were sixty Democratic senators – Al Franken won his recount — and then the conscience of the Senate, the last of the Kennedy brothers, fell to cancer.
Did Drummond’s “man behind the counter” say to us, “You may have Barack Obama; but you lose Ted Kennedy. You may have the most exciting president in a generation – but you get a Congress of Republican obstructionists who will grind government to a halt. You get real and meaningful Health Care Reform. But you get a backlash against it all, a mindless resurgence of hate and of reactionary fervor we have not seen since the days of Lincoln.”
Perhaps that last is a bit overblown. Certainly, today’s Tea Party has rivals in things more recent than the 1860s – we probably need look no farther back than Selma, or than the McCarthy hearings and the Red scares. Oddly, those periods also involved massive progress for our nation.
But then, the fear from the 1950s and 1960s did eventually subside – or perhaps we should say, it fell back to a low simmer rather than a full boil. Perhaps it is not so much that violence and hatred are the cost of progress. Perhaps progress is a response to the fear that lies beneath the hate.
And what will the Summer of the Tea Party beget? If the previous two summers mean anything, we will continue forward – but at a cost.
Once upon a time, I was a working scientist. I made discoveries; I published dozens of scientific papers; I managed a laboratory that was supported by Federal grant monies. I would approach elections with profoundly mixed emotions. For many years, the Republicans would run on platforms of reducing Federal spending, but the Republicans would always strongly support the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.
On the Democratic side, there was plenty of lip service proclaiming the value of science, but when it came time to fund the relevant Federal agencies, Democratic Congresses generally had other priorities. Still, I voted (mostly) Democratic and my bosses lobbied (mostly) Republican congressmen, successfully, for increased Federal spending on non-defense R&D. Later I became the boss and did the lobbying, but that’s another story.
That is, up until 2000. That year the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting was in New Orleans. Before that, SfN meetings were deliberately held during the late fall but always avoided Election Day. That year, for perhaps the first time, scheduling the meeting (with over 30,000 attendees) had become so cumbersome that we had to take the week we could get, and that included Election Day.
I voted absentee (not easy to do in those days in Mississippi) and went off to the meeting to present my work. I stayed up late into the night watching election returns, and satisfied with the outcome, went to bed. The next morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, walked the several blocks from my hotel to the cavernous convention center in New Orleans, and to my surprise, there were literally hundreds of people crowded around a few TV sets mounted into the atrium ceiling. I remember thinking, “What are these people doing? The election is over.” But of course, it wasn’t nearly over. There was plenty of election left, as I found out a few minutes into joining the group and staring at ‘The Morning After’.
Something else had changed. President George W. Bush and his buddies were no friends of science. I began to hear disturbing reports from my colleagues, especially those in the environmental sciences, of out-and-out fabrications and wholesale censoring of scientific research. I had dinner with a grants review panel in a Bethesda restaurant, and a program director for the National Institutes of Health who I had known for many years went nearly postal (I was happy he wasn’t packing heat) in his criticism of Bush Administration policies on stem cell research. “Grassroots” organizations such as
Defend Science sprung up to, well, defend science, which had never needed defending before in my post-Sputnik lifetime.
It was a singular moment. So I thought.
But along with other scientists, I’ve been disappointed as the field is subjected to a blistering attack from the Know-Nothing right. At the same time as the Obama Administration, occupied with other battles, has offered only a weak defense, if any.
The Tea Party movement, in particular, has exhibited a strong anti-intellectual tendency which not only scares me (as it would, since I’m an unabashed egghead) but even scares commentators from the right such as Rod Dreher (then a Dallas Morning News columnist, now a blogger for Belief.Net) and Kathleen Parker.
It was Palin that sent the cat amongst the canaries. Sarah Palin (and her “intellectual” successor, Christine O’Donnell) are the embodiment of this epistemically-closed-and-proud-of-it New Politics. At least Reagan seemed to wink at the idea that he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, and he knew it. These guys (and gals) are stupid, they’re proud of being stupid (“can I call you Joe”) and they’re appealing to all the stupid people out there that somehow feel that the childlike state of stupidity is something to be aspired to.
I will let others opine on the global warming aspect of this debate, but I will just drop a little factoid which I believe to be true but will leave for him to investigate: all 37 Republican candidates for the US Senate believe that global warming is a fallacy. As a scientist, I fought epistemic closure with everything I had. (Unsuccessfully, I might add. We’re all closed.) What scares me are the people running for state and national offices in 2010 who embrace it.
Yesterday I submitted a post to the NYT site about this blog. It was a straight forward promo and not even slightly on topic, and I was astonished to see it published today. Also, Jean’s only accepted post over there was one that contained our URL.
I think Nate has instructed his moderators to let us push our website, that he feels bad about the loss of the old site’s lively interaction and knows that he owes us in part for driving traffic through years of helping him attain the high profile he now occupies. At any rate, they certainly don’t seem to mind. It might even be a good idea to test this theory by having few more of you post there in the coming week and include reference to this site. It could well be more attractive to people if they know some of you really smart folks are here… and not just lightweights like me. *g*
Also, I suspect a lot of the regulars have already pretty much given up on the NYT comments site, so we’re not going to gather them in without a few more signposts to help them.
So while I’m on the topic…what DO you all think of the new site? Has it been a good move for Nate, do you think? Do you like the comments over there? I actually do, quite a lot. They’re much more informative than our old comments section used to be…but not nearly as much fun. I think both sites serve a distinct purpose…the NYT site is meat and potatoes, this one is dessert and cocktails. It’s hard to achieve a perfectly balanced site, but these two together are going to be just about perfect.
And while I’m at it… what do you all think about Murkowski’s write-in effort, and how it will play in Alaska? At the NYT, even the Alaskans seem hugely divided on the implications of her latest move. Par for the course this election cycle, I guess.
Anyhow, enough rambling. If you’ve just arrived here from the NYT, welcome. Stop in and say hi. If you’re one of the old crowd, we’ve missed you. (I even miss Muley and Charles. It seems to be some kind of mental illness.) If you’re new and simply curious, we’re happy to see you, too. Pull up a chair, grab a drink and jump in. Anywhere.
But be warned…we’re really, REALLY addictive!