Flat Earth Society

No acknowledgment of reality goes unpunished in the Republican Party.  Getting ahead in the GOP requires paying obeisance to nonsense.  Mitt Romney just learned this the hard way.

After the former Massachusetts governor endorsed the science behind climate change, conservative coxswains guiding the ship of GOP fools went apoplectic.  “Bye-bye nomination,” Rush Limbaugh growled, adding, “The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates that want to buy into it.”

It is not clear what event from last year Limbaugh was referencing.  It wasn’t the unusually cold weather—2010 was tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record—or some spit between climatologists over whether the planet is getting toasty. On the contrary.  Last year the National Academy of Sciences, apprising the science on climate change, concluded: “A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”

Limbaugh’s pique with Romney is doubtlessly shared amongst the GOP’s rank and file.  Indeed, according to a Gallup poll, sixty-seven percent of self-identified Republicans think the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated.  Similarly, only about a third believe humans are causing rising temperatures. (Those numbers are roughly reversed for self-identified Democrats).  No wonder, then, Republican lawmakers are so cool to the idea of an increasingly hot planet.  Ron Brownstein of the National Interest observes, “It is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.”

Conservatives’ forswearing of facts extends to fiscal policy. For decades, the right has hawked tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, as a magical elixir in good times and bad.  Lower taxes, so it goes, always promote economic growth and always pay for themselves.  Slate’s Annie Lowrey does an admirable job of debunking these fanciful ideas on the tenth anniversary of Bush 43’s sweeping tax cuts.

Lowrey points out that the US economy enjoyed 52 straight months of employment growth from 2001 to 2007, but the rate of job creation during this supply side stretch was the lowest for any comparable period of economic expansion dating to World War Two.  It’s the same story with overall growth, which averaged 2.4 percent during the “boom,” a lower rate than any other business cycle since 1945.  (Median incomes actually fell over the same period).  What’s more, according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Bush-era tax cuts, which have already cost the treasury over $2.6 trillion in lost revenues, will constitute the largest single contributor to the nation’s public debt by decade’s end.

Yet the gospel of tax cuts endures.  Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, adopted by the GOP, is a cornucopia of tax cuts (again, mostly for the wealthy).  Then there’s Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.  The former Minnesota governor recently told an audience, “Let’s start with a big, positive goal,” five percent economic growth for ten years.  Sure, let’s. But how is it to be done given that the country grew at an average clip of 3.7 percent between 1927 and 2010? Pawlenty’s answer: even more tax cuts (yes, mostly for the affluent).

While antipathy to the establishment is something of an American tradition, conservatives have cultivated particularly noxious form of populism rooted in anti-intellectualism.  It’s not just climate change denial or fiscal lunacy that bedevils the right.  Persistent belief in Obama’s foreign birth or that the president is secretly a Muslim, paranoia about the imminent revocation of gun rights, and canards about “death panels” all underscore conservatives’ hostility to the “reality-based community,” as Karl Rove once allegedly characterized those guided by, well, reality (it wasn’t a compliment).

But if reality is objectionable, what goes in its place? That’s clear: an aggrieved narrative whereby the morally pure and righteous—the denizens of what Sarah Palin called “real America”—are persecuted by an arrogant elite who rely on evidence and reason to guide the policy-making process.  The purveyors of this dark vision can garner high cable television ratings and the allegiance of many.  Bogus narratives cannot function as governing philosophies, however.  Facts have a way of interceding.

That may be of no solace to Mitt Romney.  His recognition of climate change realities may doom his chances to carry the Republican banner.  The GOP only welcomes flat-earthers.

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