[xmca] an interesting take on bullying

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at uga.edu>
Date: Fri Aug 08 2008 - 04:38:23 PDT

Know-Nothing Politics


Published: August 7, 2008

So the G.O.P. has found its issue for the 2008 election. For the next three
months the party plans to keep chanting: "Drill here! Drill now! Drill here!
Drill now! Four legs good, two legs bad!" O.K., I added that last part.

n#secondParagraph> Skip to next paragraphAnd the debate on energy policy has
helped me find the words for something I've been thinking about for a while.
Republicans, once hailed as the "party of ideas," have become the party of

Now, I don't mean that G.O.P. politicians are, on average, any dumber than
their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don't mean to question the
often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism - the insistence that there
are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and
that there's something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests
otherwise - has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy.
The party's de facto slogan has become: "Real men don't think things

In the case of oil, this takes the form of pretending that more drilling
would produce fast relief at the gas pump. In fact, earlier this week
Republicans in Congress actually claimed credit for the recent fall in oil
prices: "The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking,"
said Representative John Shadegg.

What about the experts at the Department of Energy who say that it would
take years before offshore drilling would yield any oil at all, and that
even then the effect on prices at the pump would be "insignificant"?
Presumably they're just a bunch of wimps, probably Democrats. And the
Democrats, as Representative Michele Bachmann assures us, "want Americans to
move to the urban core, live in tenements, take light rail to their
government jobs."

Is this political pitch too dumb to succeed? Don't count on it.

Remember how the Iraq war was sold. The stuff about aluminum tubes and
mushroom clouds was just window dressing. The main political argument was,
"They attacked us, and we're going to strike back" - and anyone who tried to
point out that Saddam and Osama weren't the same person was an effete snob
who hated America, and probably looked French.

Let's also not forget that for years President Bush was the center of a cult
of personality that lionized him as a real-world Forrest Gump, a simple man
who prevails through his gut instincts and moral superiority. "Mr. Bush is
the triumph of the seemingly average American man," declared Peggy Noonan,
writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2004. "He's not an intellectual.
Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world."

It wasn't until Hurricane Katrina - when the heckuva job done by the man of
whom Ms. Noonan said, "if there's a fire on the block, he'll run out and
help" revealed the true costs of obliviousness - that the cult began to

What's more, the politics of stupidity didn't just appeal to the poorly
informed. Bear in mind that members of the political and media elites were
more pro-war than the public at large in the fall of 2002, even though the
flimsiness of the case for invading Iraq should have been even more obvious
to those paying close attention to the issue than it was to the average

Why were the elite so hawkish? Well, I heard a number of people express
privately the argument that some influential commentators made publicly -
that the war was a good idea, not because Iraq posed a real threat, but
because beating up someone in the Middle East, never mind who, would show
Muslims that we mean business. In other words, even alleged wise men bought
into the idea of macho posturing as policy.

All this is in the past. But the state of the energy debate shows that
Republicans, despite Mr. Bush's plunge into record unpopularity and their
defeat in 2006, still think that know-nothing politics works. And they may
be right.

Sad to say, the current drill-and-burn campaign is getting some political
traction. According to one recent poll, 69 percent of Americans now favor
expanded offshore drilling - and 51 percent of them believe that removing
restrictions on drilling would reduce gas prices within a year.

The headway Republicans are making on this issue won't prevent Democrats
from expanding their majority in Congress, but it might limit their gains -
and could conceivably swing the presidential election, where the polls show
a much closer race.

In any case, remember this the next time someone calls for an end to
partisanship, for working together to solve the country's problems. It's not
going to happen - not as long as one of America's two great parties believes
that when it comes to politics, stupidity is the best policy.


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Received on Fri Aug 8 04:39 PDT 2008

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