Monday, May 23, 2011
After hearing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie refuse to answer a question about evolution, Slate's Jacob Weisberg wonders if Republicans are losing their grip on reality:
Christie is not part of the natural constituency for Darwin-denial. He's an intelligent man, a lawyer, a fiscal rather than a social conservative. But Christie is also someone who might want to run for president someday, or be selected as someone's running mate. For those purposes, he must constantly ask himself the question: Am I about to say something to which a white, evangelical, socially conservative, gun-owning, Obama-despising, pro-Tea Party, GOP primary voter in rural South Carolina might object? By this standard, simple acceptance of the theory of evolution becomes a risky stance. To lie or to duck? Christie chose the option of ducking while signaling his annoyance at being put in this ridiculous predicament.
Moments like this point to a growing asymmetry in our politics. One party, the Democrats, suffers from the usual range of institutional blind spots, historical foibles, and constituency-driven evasions. The other, the Republicans, has moved to a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems (climate change, the need to pay the costs of running the government) can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact (Obama might just be Kenyan-born or a Muslim), expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot.
Like the White Queen in her youth, the contemporary Republican politician must be capable of believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Foremost among these is the claim that it is possible to balance the federal budget without raising taxes. Most Republican politicians are intelligent enough to understand that with federal revenues at 14.4 percent of GDP and expenditures at 25.3 percent, it is, in fact, impossible to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts alone. But GOP candidates acknowledge this reality at their peril. Grover Norquist, the right-wing lobbyist and former collaborator of Jack Abramoff's, has appointed himself chief enforcer of the party's anti-tax catechism. If Republican candidates won't sign his no-new-taxes pledge, Norquist and fellow inquisitors at the Club for Growth threaten them with excommunication, social death, and the punishment of being "primaried" by a well-funded conservative challenger.
Reality-denial is not limited to the Republican inability to utter words like evolution and revenue. The long-range forecasts in the Paul Ryan plan, which show spending falling to 3 percent of GDP to allow for additional tax cuts, express an impossible libertarian fantasy. So too does the current Republican effort to bring this utopia about by refusing to raise the federal government's credit card limit. It is not a matter of conjecture, but something closer to a universal understanding among economists, that failing to raise the debt ceiling could cause another global economic crash. The plutocratic populist Donald Trump recently answered this objection on behalf of the party. "What do economists know? Most of them aren't very smart."