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The Party of Stupid

Rob Landley has written a very good description of how the Republican party is discombobulating. He gave me permission to reproduce it here; any formatting errors are mine.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

He who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

Sun Tsu, The Art of War

The Republican party is not just the party of "no", it's the party of "stupid".

You can trace the “party of stupid” trend back to Ronald Regan, an Altzheimer’s patient who Dave Barry described as “napping towards glory”. But it got bad under the man who put the “duh” in W.

George W. Bush was not a smart man. That was obvious (and widely remarked upon) during the 2000 election. He had a certain animal cunning, but that’s not the same as intelligence. “The Decider” was not a thinker, he did not enjoy solving problems and seldom if ever pondered the ramifications of his actions. The entire Iraq War was condemned by the simple failure to even once consider the question “then what?” They didn’t have a bad plan, they literally had no plan.

When he couldn’t simply lash out at a problem with overwhelming force, his only other option was to hunker down and wait for it to go away, whether reading “My Pet Goat” to school children while the World Trade Center burned, leaving Bin Laden hiding in a cave through the end of his presidency, or refusing to cut short his endless vacations for Hurricane Katrina.

An old military adage is that amateurs study tactics, the experienced study strategy, and professionals study logistics. These people did not study. They waged two wars plagued by constant failures of “intelligence” in more than one sense, and kept threatening to invade more (Syria and Iran near the top of the list).

The self-styled “education president” championed “Intelligent Design” while dismissing climate change. (His legacy in education was the disastrous No Child Left Behind act, perhaps a response to the way education left him behind. Ask any teacher how slowing the entire class down to the speed of the slowest student worked out in practice.)

He was viciously anti-intellectual. He didn’t value the advice of smart people (nor did he want to be surrounded by them, choosing instead “Heck of a Job Brownie”, the “Duct Tape and Plastic Sheeting” guy. He especially distrusted science and scientists, ordering them to change or bury their conclusions when he didn’t like them.

Back in the 1970’s, the long-running BBC science fiction program “Doctor Who” contained the quote “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. The don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. (Which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.)” Bush was very powerful, and very stupid. He put a man in charge of NASA, Michael Griffin, who not only eliminated weather monitoring programs because he (like Bush) didn’t believe in global warming and didn’t want to collect data that might contradict this belief, but who publicly admitted it.

What he did respect was wealth and power: obvious, measurable, superficial signs of success. Thus his energy policy was written by oil industry lobbyists, even as the price of gasoline neared $4/gallon. His fed chairman came from Goldman Sachs, and due to insufficient regulation and even less enforcement that Fed chairman needed to give an enormous bailout to his former employer (and selected other companies, but not to Goldman’s largest competitor which was allowed to go under) towards the end of the administration. But Bush thought corporations could do no wrong (since they were the ones who understood stuff he couldn’t be bothered to ask about), and thus everything must be deregulated and privatized from the military through the FDA, with disastrous consequences. (Anyone remember the massive pet food recall because nothing had been tested for contamination? We deployed mercenaries in Iraq, from Blackwater to Wackenhut: forget about Abu Ghiraib “naked prisoner human pyramid” stuff for a moment, is it really a good idea to outsource the functions of the US military to organizations that answer to the highest bidder? It’s like the companies that outsource all their employees to India and then are shocked when overseas competitors emerge. The scandals ran together to the point it was hard to even remember them all.)

This man was in charge of the Republican party for eight years. This attitude shaped everything. Being smart and educated held no weight, science was a matter of opinion. And it left its mark. The people in charge now are trying to cash in, just about exclusively, on the Stupid Vote.

Half the “appeal” of Sarah Palin is that she’s similarly convinced that anything she doesn’t understand can’t really be all that important. Does Joe Wilson really believe Obama was lying, or is he simply trying to appeal to the willfully uninformed and easily confused?

Lincoln was the one who pointed out you can fool some of the people all of the time, but he didn’t consider it a good thing. His party’s current leaders (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill O’Reilley) have made a career out of it.

I really hope these guys go the way of the Federalists and the Whigs, and maybe the Blue Dogs can split off to become the new opposition party. Unfortunately, our system has a whole lot more inertia baked into it than in 1861, and Lincolns are hard to come by. Our winner take all voting system brings out the loonies during the primaries, and trying to fix the electoral college and such seems out of fashion again.

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The personal blog of Christian Höltje.
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