Republican idiocracy

As usual with my Fin columns, Catallaxy was straight out of the gate with a response yesterday. It was perhaps unsurprising as my piece mentioned climate change, and the Catallaxy crew includes a self-described “prominent scientist”, Alan Moran, a signatory of public letters attacking mainstream climate science.

In Catallaxy terms, however, Moran seems to be the designated hitter for those occasions when I write about the US political scene. Last time out, he was criticising me for “anointing” Romney as the likely winner – he preferred to discuss the bold tax plans of Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Now, he’s upset that I’ve “anointed” Jon Huntsman as the only Republican contender who seemed likely to beat Obama, ruled out because of his heretical (that is, pro-science) views on climate change.

Anyway, the column is over the fold.

Undermined by idiocracy

The issue of climate change is unlikely to play much of a role in the US Presidential election campaign, which will begin in June with the nomination of a Republican candidate to face Barack Obama. It may however, have already decided the outcome, by ensuring that any possible Republican nominee is unelectable.

The Republican position on climate change is often described as ‘sceptical’. In fact, it is a rigid orthodoxy, from which no deviation is tolerated. According to the orthodoxy, mainstream climate science is not just completely wrong, it is a conspiracy in which money-grubbing scientists produce deliberate lies on order to promote higher taxes and, ultimately, a dictatorial world government.

The Wall Street Journal, the most authoritative source of news and opinion for US conservatives, endorses this position in its most extreme conspiracist form. It recently published a letter from 16 self-described scientists attacking climate science and accusing scientists of lying for money. The letter compared mainstream climate scientists to Trofim Lysenko, the pseudo-scientist who controlled Soviet biology under Josef Stalin. It went on to compare the alleged mistreatment of sceptics to Stalin’s use of the gulag to silence dissent.

By contrast, the Journal refused to publish a letter signed by co-signed by 255 scientists and members of the US Academy of Sciences who support mainstream science. On the WSJ view of the world, not only climate scientists but the vast majority of scientists of all kinds, including just about every major scientific organization in the world, are part of the conspiracy.

Unless it turns out that the conspiracy theory is true, this position seems likely to create problems for the WSJ in the future. More immediately, however, it has created big problems for the Republican Party.

The scientific body of evidence supporting the proposition that the global climate is warming, and that human activity is largely responsible, has been building up for several decades. During that time, most long-serving Republican politicians, notably including potential Presidential candidates have, at one time or another, endorsed the mainstream view. They now face the choice of recantation or political death.

The most prominent casualty of the demand for orthodoxy was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. A hardline conservative on nearly all issues, Huntsman insisted on restating his acceptance of the reality of climate change. This was an insult the Republican base could not bear, compounded by his acceptance of an appointment as Ambassador to China from President Obama. Despite spending millions of his own money, Huntsman’s campaign went nowhere. After a poor third place in New Hampshire, he withdrew.

The support that Huntsman might have garnered went instead to Mitt Romney, a former moderate and supporter of science, who has shown himself willing to say whatever it takes to appease the primary voters. The last serious alternative remaining is another flip-flopper, Newt Gingrich. Although Gingrich’s ferocious style appeals to the base, he has an embarrassing history on climate change, having appeared with leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi in a joint appeal for action.

Unlike Huntsman, both Romney and Gingrich come to the campaign with large amounts of embarrassing baggage. Gingrich’s various indiscretions have been known for some time, but the campaign brought out the embarrassing fact that he worked as an advocate for the mortgage company Fannie Mae, which he and other Republicans subsequently demonized as the prime cause of the global financial crisis.

More surprising have been the revelations about Mitt Romney, whose public image was that of a successful, but dull businessman, specialising in corporate turnarounds. Over the last few weeks, that image has been replaced with one of a ruthless corporate raider and aggressive tax avoider, stashing millions in Swiss banks and the Cayman Islands. Even more startling has been a recent attack ad from the Gingrich camp, documenting Romney’s entanglement in a massive Medicare fraud undertaken by a company he took over in the 1980s.

Barring some improbable scenarios involving deadlocked conventions, or the remote prospects of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, one or other of these deeply flawed candidates seems certain to be the Republican nominee. Given his easy win in Florida, Romney is a clear favorite, but that may change when the last Gingrich attack sinks in.

Either way, Barack Obama is now a clear favorite for re-election, although he usually loses in polls where voters are asked to choose between him a ‘generic Republican’. Voters presumably imbue this hypothetical character with attributes such as sanity and at least some minimal level of honesty. But in today’s Republican Party, such attributes mean automatic disqualificatio

fn1. Given the awfulness of Catallaxy’s comments sections, I won’t cross-link. If, like me, you’re sick of Google, DuckDuckGo is your friend.
fn2. Another prominent Australian scientist on the list is Don Aitkin, formerly VC of the University of Canberra. Some might suppose he was playing the ambiguity associated with the fact that he is a retired political “scientist”. In fact, however, in a series of emails we exchanged a few years back, he assured me that he had fully mastered climate science in his spare time.

46 thoughts on “Republican idiocracy

  1. Ikonoclast, if you could hit real nails on the head like that, you’d make one heck of a carpenter! The engineering innovation you can see happening in China at the moment is quite phenomenal. You can see they’re quickly catching up with the west (and surpassing) in terms of R&D in lots of areas too. I can only imagine, given the Chinese intake in to our (say) medical courses here in Melbourne, that they well and truly have the capability to compete with the west in many of the fields the west is supposed to be export competitive in this century. They do take climate change seriously. Thank goodness we’re their quarry.

  2. dear Ikonoclast
    i thought part an important part of china’s present prosperity was predicated on amerika being able to continue to buy stuff manufactured in china using the money amerika borrows from china. so, if amerika wasn’t able to afford to buy chinese stuff where would that leave china? if chinese leaders aren’t laughing about the immanent decline of amerika, then maybe they’re fretting whether internal markets are developing fast enough to replace export markets or if there will be a disjunction between the two & social upheaval in china.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  3. I don’t know so much about the US but here we have Labor who want to appear to take the climate problem seriously but don’t have the backbone to fight for policy that treats it seriously. Short term economics and populist politics, aided and abetted by an amoral media strongly influenced by their commercial arrangements with corporate purchasers of commodified public opinion will ensure that the minimum necessary remains in the realms of unthinkable. Risk averse and compromised Labor here and Democrats in the US don’t have the strength of commitment to do more than aim for the appearance of taking it seriously.

  4. Alfred,
    The Chinese are quite satisfied with growth rates as they stand, but you do have a reasonable point, although they are distancing themselves from the US in many respects. They’re actively seeking new trade agreements and currency settlements in non USD. In fact, they’re probably leading that charge.
    Let’s not overstate the US dept concern either. Their dept to GDP ratio is by no means exceptional to western standards and don’t underestimate their prudence when it comes to self interest. They screwed us over.

  5. @BilB
    Your proposal was mildly protectionist. You want to encourage Americans to buy American, through your certification scheme.

    As I said before, I agree the US needs to do something about aggregate demand shortfall now, during the liquidity trap. I disagree that it needs to increase it’s “structural aggregate demand” in the long term. It needs a shot in the arm, but not a permanent drug regimen.

  6. The campaign seems to be beyond satire and impossible to poe but one thing does continue to amuse me, the use of “moderate” as an absolutely damning description of an opponent. Says it all really.

  7. @Ian Milliss

    I was listening to someone with a southern drawl in South Carolina saying that Romney was ‘a bit too moderate’ for him. I wondered if this meant Romney was verging on being extremely moderate, whereas the complainer was moderately extreme.

    Personally, I don’t like ‘moderates’ either, because historically, this has always meant right-of-centre. That said, the whole moderate/extremist dichotomy is probably as close as one can get to an apparently legitimate petitio principii characterisation.

  8. @Fran Barlow
    Indeed, in the past in that US context I always understood moderate to mean something like “right wing extremist”. It is fascinating how arcane the rhetoric of US politics has become, more a sort of weird jibberish initiate language used to signal affiliations rather than to communicate. I know that’s not unusual but it seems to be reaching an extreme of incomprehensibility in this case.

  9. I should add that they now seem to be using moderate in the sense we would use it ie not extreme, but they mean that as a condemnation – not, of course, that they would regard themselves as extreme, rather their position is “common sense” etc etc, Words begin to lose all meaning here.

  10. @alfred venison

    For well over a decade, maybe two, China has been sending cadres of students and researchers out all over the world to learn everything they can about the rest of the world and all its sciences, humanities, disciplines etc. China has also been buying, accruing and inveigling hard power, soft power and influnce in every country that it can. China has a clear plan to be the number one (and only) superpower. This is standard behaviour for any great power.

    China also regards every person of Chinese descent as being of Chinese nationality wherever they live in the world, regardless of actual nationality and the number of generations separating them from residence in China. China will enforce this view if and when it can. China will attempt dominate the world. In this it will eventually fail as all powers have always failed to establish world hegemony.

    The elephant in the room is limits to growth which will hit the Chinese empire as hard as it hits the rest of the world. However, due to the “shape of things to come”, the peasant powers (those with a large peasant base, large basic manpower and effective central government), like China, India and Indonesia for example, will dominate the world. Powers which depend on middle class economies will collapse or have to re-invent themselves. It is always possible that Russia and the USA could evnetually partially re-establish themselves by becoming “Peasant Powers”. They are certainly heading that way. MENA will collapse and fracture into a series of failed states. Pakistan is also destined for this result. All this is IMO.

  11. @Ikonoclast
    I agree you can only grow to be a superpower by manufacturing your way there, but I think it’s important to appreciate that you can be a successful manufacturing nation without reliance on peasantry as demonstrated by South Korea, Germany and even the US.
    I’ll hedge your prediction by sharpening up my chopsticks skills, but I’ll hold off on the Mandarin 😛

  12. The most prominent casualty of the demand for orthodoxy was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.

    That’s a stretch. Huntsman was done in by working for Obama, and by being the same as Romney (rich Mormon ex-governor) but with less name recognition and not much more charisma. Even if he had been orthodox on climate nobody would have cared about him, just like they didn’t care about Tim Pawlenty, who was/is orthodox, but utterly boring otherwise.

  13. A minor point: I couldn’t find any signatures on the December 2007(!) open letter to the UN General regarding ‘Climate Change’.

    What happened to the distinction between ‘climate change’ and anthropogenic global warming?

    What happened to the distinction between ‘natural science’ and ‘social science’?

    Each and every one of my natural science friends I have asked agree that reducing greenhouse gas externalities will not result in ‘no climate change’ but the same people also agree that reducing CO2 emissions will result in reducing anthropogenic global warming and this is a good thing.

    The organiser(s) of the letter have apparently decided Christopher Monckton, Lord, doesn’t fit either the natural or the social science category. This goes to show one can discover a morsel of valuable information almost in every text.

  14. @Troy Prideaux

    Not really, in the past the US certainly did have a sizable manufacturing sector but the main source that drove US rich is the foreign loan outs in Ronald Reagan era. Those foreign loans and aids to third world countries have completely destoryed all the farming or agricultural sectors of those countries and to the extent only the US business have rights to manufacturings in those countries because of copyright and locals are not allowed to produce their own good in their own country; this forced them to purchase US goods at any given price and still they are forced to repay the US debts (defaults was not allowed until recently when strong government stood against US like Argentina as such and the world intervention in Brazil). All China is doing now is just copying what the US is doing but in my opinion, China is still much less agressive if compared to the US. Like the saying I guess “you point a finger at someone, there will be 3 pointing back at you”.

    P.S. I don’t support these types of economic invasions as they are extremely disgusting actions.

  15. Tom, the US still has a vast manufacturing base – only recently overtaken by China in terms of manufacturing production and output in USD. Both far exceed the rest significantly. Remember the US produces lots of big ticket items like advanced aerospace kit and heavy plant equipment.

  16. @Troy Prideaux

    I do agree with what you are saying but that’s not my point, my point is that the US now have far less third world countries to exploit in compared to the past. Quite a few of the third world countries that were under economic tyranny of the US have now defaulted their loan and started local manufacturing which werent even allowed when they were under the US loans.

  17. It’s a ghoulish kind of fun watching the Republican primaries – sort of like a ringside seat at the Colosseum.

    On China, Ikonoklast and BiiB have, I think , valid points (minus Ikonoklast’s predictions of Chinese domination – China has huge assets, but huge problems). A country that has a solid lead in manufacturing in major sectors has an advantage that exchange rates do not counter except over very long terms. Their customers are locked in. Because manufacturing is a matter of clusters and skills which take decades to build up (Paul Krugman made his name on this commonplace observation). As an example, if you want many kinds of heavy construction machinery, then Caterpillar or Kohmatsu are the only games in town. And once you have a fleet of Caterpillars, you are in for two decades or so of spares, and you will mix your fleet only reluctantly – you have invested in much more than the machine itself – in mechanic expertise, and spares inventory, and workshop partners, and compatible auxiliary equipment. It took Kohmatsu a huge amount of (state-supported) loss-leading effort over many years to win market share from Caterpillar.

    There are other sectors like this – the British have a similar lock on some kinds of insurance, and for some kinds of high-tech medical equipment there are two or three US suppliers. The Chinese broke into the very large x-ray market a few years back, on the basis of major state support. They took a large chunk from three other firms (two US, one European). There are now three – one Chinese and two other.

    Tariffs were the traditional way round this problem – a way, among other things to balance trade. But they seem to have been written out, so I guess we have to put up with the roller-coaster until the economics profession discovers some more about how the real world works.

  18. More in the genre of the stupid: it burns

    Santorum goes after Romney on energy, climate change

    The article speaks for itself, but the last few comments underline whom people like Santorum and Romney are pitching at.

    One of them, in addition to the usual stupidity adds a novel one:

    let’s not forget that science gave us the pesticides and chemicals that contaminated the planet in the first place and made environmentalism necessary.

    Hard to beat for stupidity. As offensive and misanthropic as stupidity almost always is, it’s hard not to admire novel concise multi-level stupidity for its form.

  19. Hey, I regard that as a great intellectual leap for Republican thought(lessness): a concession that environmentalism is necessary, accompanied by – well, it sounds like a claim that science is bad, but is probably intended to be a claim that certain technological applications of science are bad. Who knew Earth First! and the GOP had so much intellectual overlap?

    Next stump speech will quote Ted Kaczynski extensively, I imagine.

  20. What the US really needs is a few more christianic terrorists to demographically balance the islamic terrorists (who seem to be somewhat over-represented, in their imaginations at least).

    Whatever happened to the ever-dependable ‘Red under the bed’ as the unifying threat?

    If American’s ever cease to remain petrified of the ‘clear and present’ dangers the rest of the world poses, they will quickly be at each others throats and the US will collapse in anarchy. When the happens the concern about nuclear arms getting into the wrong hands will be very real.

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