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Thursday, September 08, 2011

GOP Debate a Trip Through Conservative Fantasyland

At last night's Republican presidential debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry summed up very nicely nearly everything that's wrong with today's Republican Party:

ABC News:

GalileoTexas Gov. Rick Perry clung to his skepticism of climate change science in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate when he was asked if he believes man-made climate change is happening.

"The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet to me is just nonsense," Perry said. "Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell," he said.

It's perfect. It's got everything. It's got poor Rick Perry being victimized -- just like Galileo -- for scientific dissent. It lacks a single fact to back up the argument. And it displays economic flateartherism (developing new markets and new technologies would be bad for the economy? Really?). It's got a bass-ackward take on history worthy of Michele Bachmann (Galileo's case wasn't that of a hyper-religious know-nothing against scientists, it was a scientist against hyper-religious know-nothings like Perry). And it's a fine example of believing whatever in the hell you want to believe, inconvenient facts or logic be damned.


Of course, there's really no reason to single Perry out, other than to use the perfection of his wrongheadedness as an example of what passes for his party's brightest minds these days. The night was filled with unicorns and leprechauns and other fables beloved by the GOP. In a piece this morning, the New York Times fact-checks the debaters at the GOP debate and finds a largely fact-free event. It turns out that Republicans live in a world where Barack Obama is blocking offshore drilling and nuclear plants, where global warming is a hoax (despite verifiable increases in global temperature over the years), where Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme," where healthcare reform is killing jobs, where up is down and right is left and all your crazy, rightwing dreams come true, true, true if you just wish hard enough.

Another example; this time, Matt Yglesias breaks down Michele Bachmann's claim that the Congressional Budget Office found that healthcare reform eliminates jobs:

In fact, what the CBO said was that "the law would have a 'small' impact on the overall labor force because it might cause some workers to reduce their hours or retire earlier."

Making it harder for people who want jobs to find them, and making people less inclined to want to work, both reduce aggregate employment. But they're very different things. Policies that work by altering the size of the labor force are totally different from policies that work by changing the share of the labor force that has job opportunities. If we halted payment of all Social Security benefits tomorrow, then the number of senior citizens in the labor force would skyrocket and overall employment would almost certainly shoot up. But would we be helping unemployed people that way? No. If anything we’d be making it harder for the people currently looking for work to find any. Bachmann's complaint about the ACA [Affordable Care Act] is just this policy in reverse. Some people who might otherwise prefer to work part-time are currently working full-time in order to get health insurance benefits. Some people who might otherwise prefer to retire are currently working full-time in order to get health insurance benefits. A universal health care insurance will change that. Which is to say that a universal health insurance system will make their lives better and make it easier for them to do what they want.

Long story short, Michele Bachmann would pull people out of retirement in order to pump up employment numbers -- but without doing anything to help the jobless. Once again, you're faced with the question that arises so often when you're discussing Republicans; is Michele Bachmann lying or just stupid? In other words, is she twisting the CBO's findings to fit her political agenda or is she just not understanding the findings at all? Given that it's Bachmann we're talking about here, the answer may forever remain a mystery -- either explanation fits.

Which brings me to one of the Republicans' favorite victim cards; elitist snobbery. Liberals call conservatives dumb because we're fancypants coastal elitists who look down our noses at plain-spoken folks from the heartland. My response to that? You're a whiner and, if your not a member of that class represented by the GOP candidates, a chump.

One; I live in a middle class neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin. Everyone on that stage last night is rich, lives in a mansion, and has probably joined a country club. I'm not the elite here, they are.

Two; we call Republicans dumb because they say dumb things. I didn't make Rick Perry compare himself to Galileo, I didn't force Michele Bachmann to conclude that something projected to reduce joblessness would increase it. I didn't make Mitt Romney get President Obama's energy record completely wrong. They did that. They said those dumb things and they were all unforced errors. You should thank me for cutting them some slack by concluding they're dumb -- because the only other explanation is that they're being deliberately dishonest and not just demonstrably mistaken.

So who won the Republican debate last night? Who cares? Seriously, the whole thing turned out to be a contest to see who was the least fit to be president. It was a ritual of demonstration of ideological purity, not a debate at all. It was a game show that might as well have been titled Who Agrees With Eric Cantor Most? and the prize is the adoration of millions of chumps, eager to be fooled into believing you give a damn about them.

If anyone wants to be called the winner of that, then welcome to it.


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