Links and Comments: This Week’s American Politics; … Heinlein

This has been a bizarre week, what with the third debate among Republican presidential candidates, and the reactions from the red-meat base and, on the other side, the intelligentsia who rolled their eyes about all the lies and distortion those candidates get away with — to the approval of the crowd.

I’ll echo, without being able to provide a link, a characterization of Ben Carson: he is single-handedly destroying the world’s ability to use “brain surgeon” as shorthand for “smart person”.

Among many of his remarks: Holy Crap: Ben Carson thinks our tax system should be based on the Bible. He clearly hasn’t read it very closely.

The events this week demonstrate this premise: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. — H.L. Mencken. The conservative, Republican, base seems to like simple solutions to complex problems — cut taxes! reduce the deficit! deport the immigrants! — despite the analyses from patient experts (e.g. Paul Krugman) who again and again keep explaining why these simple solutions are wrong, will backfire if implemented, and provide evidence — e.g. about the austerity policies of Greece, and Kansas, to take just one example.

As always in this blog, I don’t mean to make this simply about politics; my interest is about general principles. What is it about conservative vs liberal politics, that reflects general perceptions of human beings of the world? How is it that variant perceptions of reality reach such different conclusions? Is it because (as I suspect in some circumstances) mass delusions actually promote cohesion and survival of large groups, and understanding of the reality behind the delusions is irrelevant?

Yet for now, some links and comments from this past week.

Slate: Reality Sucks: Leading GOP candidates aren’t at war with the press. They just have a problem with the truth.

What happened in this debate wasn’t an attack by the press on the candidates. It was an attack by the candidates on the press. Harwood, Quick, and the other CNBC panelists were no harsher to the Republicans on Wednesday than CNN’s Anderson Cooper was to Clinton and other Democrats in their debate two weeks ago. What was different this time was the reaction. Presented with facts and figures that didn’t fit their story, the leading Republican candidates accused the moderators of malice and deceit.


Slate: Scary Politics: Americans are scared about a lot of things—especially the government itself.


Salon: Their lips are moving. They’re lying: Ben Carson, Rand Paul and the right-wing’s truthiness problem


A general theme is that conservative politicians play to their base by denying any kind of science that would offend religious sensibilities (i.e. evolution) or business priorities… because they are playing to their base, and because they are financed by billionaires who deny any science that would threaten their profits. (That is, obviously, anyone who is invested in drilling for oil, or natural gas, or fracking.)

Slate: Neil deGrasse Tyson identifies this problem in which political candidates pander to voters — and says the voters themselves are the problem; without them the candidates would not need to pander to them.


And part of all this, perhaps a more significant part than I’d thought, is, at Salon: The GOP primary’s theocratic X-factor: Inside the twisted worldview and junk history of David Barton.

Barton’s “history” has been repeatedly rebutted by academics and even conservative Christian scholars. His publisher withdrew his book on Jefferson when it was revealed to be made up from whole cloth. But none of that matters to the right wing true believers. His founding myth is much more comfortable for them than all that crazy Enlightenment stuff about reason and progress and rational inquisition that informed the real American revolution.

There is no doubt that Mike Huckabee admires him greatly, that Glenn Beck promotes him constantly, that he is the source of much of Ben Carson’s wild misinformation (whether directly or though Beck and other sources), and that he is very intimately involved with Ted Cruz’s campaign. If you wonder where these presidential candidates, and a good number of GOP politicians at all levels, have come up with this surreal alternative history that bears no relationship to reality, look no further than David Barton. He is the most influential right wing crackpot in American politics today. And that’s saying something.

Again: His founding myth is much more comfortable for them than all that crazy Enlightenment stuff about reason and progress and rational inquisition that informed the real American revolution. My latest provisional conclusion, not quite captured in my posted list, is that human culture is mostly about tribes, and allegiance to tribes. It’s not about perception or acceptance of reality. But allegiance to tribes is, ironically, what keeps the race going.


Bottom line: Jeffrey Tayler at Salon: They really want a theocracy: The GOP candidates who want to make you bow to their lord.

Carson, Cruz, Huckabee. Scary.

And, almost incidentally, given my recent reading, this is where current American politics echo the stories of Robert A. Heinlein, who fully *75 years ago* wrote stories about a theological revolution that took over the US — reflected in his early short novel “If This Goes On–” — with the implication that this tendency in American culture toward religious fundamentalism has been here all along. I’ll have another post about Heinlein in particular, shortly.

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