Watching the Flame-Out

Trying to get your party’s nomination to be the one who runs for president – against that evil awful person from the other party – can be demoralizing. Some candidacies don’t last long. Howard Dean was gone with one scream, although he had done well for a bit. Bill Richardson had wonderful qualifications – he had always been the go-to guy to go to odd places and somehow get our political prisoners or hostages released – he was brilliant at international crisis diplomacy – and he had run New Mexico rather well – but he was reduced to running ads joking about how no one cared. Wesley Clark was a brilliant military man, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000, and smart and personable and devilishly handsome, with good ideas on how to fix this or that – but he was gone in the blink of an eye. And Fred Thompson had been both a senator and a character actor, the voice of authority in many an action thriller and the kind but gruff boss on Law and Order for a few seasons – but it turned out that without a good script he was so boring people just never showed up for his events. Whatever people thought he was seems to have been in the screenplays, not him. Rudy Giuliani ran on and on about 9/11 and the nation yawned. The list goes on and on. Candidates can flame out quickly.

And now maybe it’s Rick Perry’s turn. As of Wednesday, August 17 – Peter Schroeder in “The Hill” offers Gov. Perry Comes Under Fire After Bernanke-Treason Remark and the New York Post talks about A Rookie Mistake and Richard K. Barry asks Will the Real GOP Establishment Ever Be Comfortable with Rick Perry?

The answer is no – Karl Rove doesn’t like him and maybe the party has had enough with blustering Texans. And if Roger Ailes at Fox News is queasy about Perry and using all of Rupert Murdoch’s resources to get the obese and combative Chris Christie to run – then it may well be over for Perry. Roger Ailes gets it. The nation needs a dose of crude New Jersey kind of Jersey Shore sneering, not down-home Texas charm. And the statistician Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight runs the numbers in Pondering Perry’s Electability – it’s not looking good. Even Michelle Malkin is fed up with Perry – so he may be toast, leaving Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann.

But see Bachmann Staffer Arrested for Terrorism in Uganda in 2006 and Bachmann Staffer Was Accused of Trying to Start a Christian Nation in Uganda – as everyone has their problems. With her the strangeness never ends.

And we’ve seen what happens. Last time around the Republicans settled for the somewhat scattered and quite conventional John McCain – thinking his firecracker of a running mate, Sarah Palin, would help things out with the angry xenophobic base who wanted the nation to return to the white man’s 1953 in Peoria or some such thing. McCain was supposed to be electable, so the Republicans held their noses and hoped for the best. This time around it may be Mitt Romney, for the same reason – electability. He can run with Ted Nugent or Charlie Sheen or something.

But what happened to Rick Perry? Well, back in 2008 most Republican presidential candidates were willing to concede that climate change was real and the Republican presidential ticket – yes, McCain and Palin – said the way to combat global warming was a cap-and-trade plan. But things changed when the Obama administration decided the cap-and-trade idea was pretty good policy. It became evil, and job-killing, and anti-American. That’s the Republican line now. But Rick Perry doesn’t seem to be very good at riffing on that line. Campaigning in New Hampshire he decided to share his bold vision of an international climate change conspiracy:

I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data, so that they will have dollars rolling into their, to their projects. I think we’re seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists who are coming forward and questioning, the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.

Yes, our climate’s changed, they’ve been changing for ever – ever since the earth was formed, but I do not buy into that uh, a group of scientists, who have in some cases found to be manipulating this information and the cost to the country and to the world of implementing these uh, uh anti-carbon programs is in the billions if not trillions of dollars at the end of the, of the day, and I don’t think from my perspective I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective is more and more being put into question.

Ignore the grammar and verb-agreement issues – it’s a Texas thing – and consider that he jumped far beyond the rest of the Republicans. Steve Benen has the video and offers these comments:

Even for Republicans, this is pretty nutty stuff. I’d expect Perry to say something like, “We can’t say for sure why the climate is changing,” or maybe go with a Romney/Huntsman line such as, “Dealing with this issue would hurt businesses, so we can’t afford it right now.”

But, no – this guy believes the entire scientific field and all of the climate data collected around the globe is all part of a money-grubbing conspiracy. What’s more, in Perry’s imagination, scientists who don’t exist are constantly coming forward to endorse the far-right line.

But Benen notes that Perry did write a book last year that argued we have been experiencing a cooling trend – no one but George Will holds that position, and George Will is not part of the scientific community. There’s a lot of nonsense here.

Will Perry get a pass from his party? That seems unlikely:

The campaign of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. seized on Perry’s comments to portray the Texas governor as outside the mainstream with his climate change views. Huntsman himself does believe in the science behind global warming.

“We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party,” John Weaver, Huntsman’s chief strategist, said in an interview Wednesday. “The American people are looking for someone who lives in reality and is a truth teller because that’s the only way that the significant problems this country faces can be solved. It appears that the only science that Mitt Romney believes in is the science of polling, and that science clearly was not a mandatory course for Governor Perry.”

And Benen again comments:

I give the Huntsman campaign a lot of credit for taking a reality-based position on this. In Republican circles, this isn’t a popular line to take – indeed, by criticizing Perry on an issue conservative feel strongly about, Huntsman’s team is only reinforcing why its campaign is likely doomed – which only makes this more admirable.

Of course Benen notes that Huntsman believes the climate crisis is real, but Huntsman clearly doesn’t actually want to do anything about it – at least not now, as other things matter more, like the deficit or something. But as for this guy talking about this danger of the Republicans becoming the anti-science party, Benen notes it is a little late for that:

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-education – in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks recently noted, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

That Brooks column on the current Republicans Party is famous now:

Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

And Brooks goes on and on. These guys do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities on economics, and now it is science itself. Benen reminds us of the Bush/Cheney war on science – where “scientific research was either rejected or manipulated to suit political ends.” And this seems about right – “The integrity of the scientific process itself came under attack, to the delight of the party and its base.” And now we have Rick Perry.

Benen also notes that Chris Mooney in this item covers the inevitable:

The science-based community once was split between Democrats and Republicans – but not anymore…

Increasingly, the parties are divided over expertise – with much more of it residing among liberals and Democrats, and with liberals and Democrats much more aligned with the views of scientists and scholars. More fundamentally, the parties are increasingly divided over reality itself….

The expertise gap itself is becoming dramatic. In one of the most comprehensive surveys of American professors, sociologists Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason found that 51 percent described themselves as Democrats, and 35.3 percent described themselves as independents – with the bulk of those independents distinctly Democrat-leaning, rather than straddling the center. Just 13.7 percent were Republicans. Academia has long been a liberal bastion, but it hasn’t always been this lopsided….

The Democratic Party has thus become the chosen party of what you might call “empirical professionals” and Americans with advanced degrees…. In recent decades, the Republican Party’s rightward shift alienated many academics, scientists, and intellectuals.

Well, some folks like reality, and many voters do. So Huntsman’s spokesman decides to warn his side that Republicans are not going to win a national election if they become the anti-science party. He was just trying to be helpful.

But it may be too late for that. Yes, Perry may flame out, with his talk of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Chairman, being a traitor who would be rightly lynched if he stepped into Texas – after all, think what happened to Jack Kennedy in Dallas, although Perry doesn’t mention that directly – and now with his talk about the grand conspiracy of scientists, out to ruin America and make Republicans look bad, just so these same scientists can get filthy rich. Such things may sink Perry’s campaign early. But you can see why he took that line and made it all exciting and dramatic for the base. Yep, he went too far, but it’s sometimes hard to tell just where that too-far-line actually is.

The problem with finding that line is a uniquely American problem, one explored by Richard Hofstadter in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and the essays collected in The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964) – all about our curious distrust of people who know more than we know, a culturally established distrust of experts and expertise. You know the drill. If you’re so smart how come you’re not rich? Maybe there was a time when being well-educated and insightful, and full of ideas, or at least able to discuss the ideas of others intelligently, or least know there were ideas floating around out there somewhere and they mattered, made you cool. Or maybe that was France. But now, here, more than ever before, that makes you a fool. You’re inauthentic, you see. You’ve lost touch with the real America. Obama, with his degrees and having taught constitutional law and all the rest, must be out of touch with the real America.

But a lot of this is all mixed up with our attitudes about where we learn things, which for most of us is in school. And there’s the rub. These folks don’t even like schools. And Dana Goldstein explores that in an item in Slate, appropriately titled The GOP’S New War on Schools:

Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Iowa straw poll Saturday represents many obvious things: the mainstreaming of the Tea Party, the overnight ordinariness of female presidential candidates, the increasing irrelevance of also-ran moderates like Jon Huntsman. But her growing popularity among the Republican base also signals something that’s been less widely acknowledged: a sea change in the party’s education agenda. It’s safe to say that the political era of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind is now officially over, even as the law’s testing mandates continue to reverberate in classrooms across the country.

You see, at one time schools and book-learning was conceded to be, maybe, a good thing, because that stuff was good for business and good for people who wanted to make a lot of money, but things change:

As recently as a decade ago, Republicans like George W. Bush, John McCain, and John Boehner embraced bipartisan, standards-and-accountability education reform as a pro-business venture, a way to make American workers and firms more competitive in the global marketplace. Now we are seeing the GOP acquiesce to the anti-government, Christian-right view of education epitomized by Bachmann, in which public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation’s youth.

Yes, sometimes schools teach things that are not in the Bible. And some of what they teach makes the Bible stories seem odd. This wasn’t settled at the Scopes Trial. But of course there is an immediate political problem:

Against a backdrop of Tea Party calls to abolish the Department of Education and drastically cut the federal government’s role in local public schools, Rep. John Kline, the moderate chairman of the House education and workforce committee, has refused to engage in productive negotiations with the Obama administration on how to update and reauthorize the troubled No Child Left Behind law. If it is not rewritten to emphasize academic growth instead of raw test score goals, up to 80 percent of American schools could be labeled “failing” this school year, because less than 100 percent of their native-born American students have reached “proficiency” on reading and math tests. But with no Republican partners emerging from the partisan morass to work on the legislation, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week that his department would sidestep Congress, allowing states to ignore NCLB’s test-score targets if they pursue school reform in other ways, such as tying teacher evaluation and pay to student achievement data.

Well, that is a policy issue, and a bit of a mess, but Goldstein widens the issue to what underlies the political impasse:

Bachmann stands at the forefront of the GOP’s shifting allegiances on education. Like many female elected officials before her, she first got involved in politics as a mother concerned about local public schools. (Though Bachmann home-schooled her biological children, the family’s 23 foster children attended public schools.) As Ryan Lizza described in his recent New Yorker profile, in 1993, Bachmann, then an IRS-lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, co-founded a charter school whose curriculum was built around evangelical Christian themes such as creationism. Several years later, she went on to run unsuccessfully for the Stillwater, Minn., school board as one member of a five-person Christian conservative block. The group campaigned on the expected culture war issues, such as abstinence-only sex education, but also on a more esoteric platform: opposition to state education standards and to federal vocational education programs.

As her political career advanced, the overarching theme of Bachmann’s education activism was that government attempts to improve schools threatened the prerogatives of the Christian family and represented a dangerous move toward a socialized, planned economy.

Hofstadter was onto something with his essays on the paranoid style in American politics. Government attempts to improve schools is the first step toward a socialized, planned economy? Who knew?

But Bachmann was serious:

In 2001, she charged that the 1994 federal School to Work Opportunities Act, which provided funding for low-income teenagers to do on-the-job apprenticeships with local companies, would turn students into “human resources for a centrally planned economy.” As a state senator in 2002, Bachmann produced a bizarre film called Guinea Pigs II, which compared Minnesota’s Profile of Learning curriculum standards, instituted in 1998 by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, to Nazism and communism. As Tim Murphy of Mother Jones wrote of Bachmann last week, “She was Tea Party before the Tea party was cool. In 2002, with a Republican president in the White House and the Tea Party a full seven years away, she cited the 9th and 10th amendments while railing against No Child Left Behind as an unconstitutional abuse of power.”

Maybe with Bachmann the strangeness never ends, but she was just part of a larger movement:

From the beginning of her activist career, she was part of a national “parental rights” movement organized by groups such as Focus on the Family and the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund. Like Bachmann, Sarah Palin was a foot soldier in this movement. According to an account local political activist Phillip Munger gave Salon, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin promoted a group of Christian right school board candidates. She also explored the possibility of banning “offensive” books from the town’s public library.

Goldstein has all the links if you want to drill down and confirm all this, but essentially we have a movement:

These Christian right organizations lobbied against curriculum standards and state and federal regulation of home-schoolers, and recruited thousands of school board candidates – many of them churchgoing moms like Bachmann -in an attempt to wield influence over curricula and textbooks. The movement paid special attention to how public schools dealt with issues such as homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, but also sought to promote an über-nationalist view of American history, in which the evils of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans were downplayed or sometimes totally whitewashed.

That was the nineties, and Goldstein recommends Sara Diamond’s Not By Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right for all the details. But now is now, and the Tea Party is carrying this forward:

Many Tea Party-affiliated organizations have embraced the Christian “parental rights” agenda, a natural fit for a movement seeking to drastically shrink government’s size. Among congressional freshman, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Kristi Noem, and Rick Berg campaigned as parental-rights advocates, and they are clearly influencing their lawmaker peers. Veteran Republicans, including one-time moderates Kline, Boehner, Mike Pence, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, are distancing themselves from No Child Left Behind and promoting tax-credits for homeschooling parents.

The same dynamic is sure to play out across the 2012 GOP field. Bachmann’s main competition for Tea Party voters, Rick Perry, has made opposition to federal education mandates a centerpiece of his political career. Under his watch as governor, Texas was one of just two states (the other was Alaska) to refuse to even consider adopting the new state-led common core curriculum standards in English and math. Perry also kept Texas out of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education reform grant competition, declaring, “We would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education.”

Perry would have nothing to do with those common core curriculum standards in English and math. He’s not interested in the basics of what everyone should know. He sort of implies there is no such thing. Whatever the parents know for sure, and no more than that, should be good enough. It’s almost as if having kids know too much – and certainly kids knowing more than their parents about this topic or that, say, about calculus or something – is a horrible thing to contemplate. Could that be? It seems so. And maybe that dovetails with his comments about the obvious conspiracy of money-grubbing climate scientists, who must be lying to us, each and every one of them. There is a consensus about climate change – a common core understanding that it’s real, and dangerous, and needs to be addressed – but Perry argues that there’s no such thing. You can see how one follows the other.

And then there’s Mitt Romney:

His centrism on school reform is a matter of public record. When he ran for president in 2008, he defended No Child Left Behind, saying similar legislation had worked well in Massachusetts during his time as governor. As recently as February 2010, in a speech before the Conservative Political Action Committee, he outlined a school reform platform largely indistinguishable from that of the Obama administration, supporting higher pay for teachers and more accountability.

But now he knows better and has basically shut the hell up:

His campaign website carefully avoids any mention of education policy, and he hasn’t brought it up on the trail. At Thursday night’s GOP debate, only Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain were asked about NCLB; Romney got off the hook. But with his party’s congressional leaders rushing to the right on school reform – chasing after Bachmann, Palin, and other members of the Tea Party – Romney won’t get a free pass for very long. He’ll have to either defend his record of support for top-down education standards or perform another obvious and painful flip-flop in his quest to woo the conservative base.

Well, that’s his particular problem. But Romney will be fine, as he has an unerring instinct for staying just on this side of that too-far-line.

Perry does not, obviously. And maybe he’s toast, simply for taking things a tad too far. He’ll be one more in a long line of flash-in-the-pan curiosities.

Or maybe this year there is no too-far-line, not anymore. After all, who knows anything anyway? But then no one should ever bet against Roger Ailes. It’s all a puzzle.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Watching the Flame-Out

  1. Steven Feig says:

    WOW. I have been harshly critical of the Bush Lite administration’s bashing of science when politically inconvenient — but what you have outlined here is FAR WORSE. We now have a major political party that has become not only anti-science — but now ANTI-EDUCATION! OMG! For an interesting fictional projection of how an anti-science, anti-education government could play out — you MUST view the movie “Idiocracy.” It originally landed as a Comedy, but appears to be gaining predictive power each year. Amusing, yet horrifying at the same time.

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