People say to me, “Ellis, is there some convenient metaphor or metric I can use to gauge the level of degradation and deterioration of today’s Republican Party?” And, until recently, all I could point to was little things–everything done and said for eight years by the Bush administration, the corrupted-for-a-generation nature of the Supreme Court, the public career of Newt Gingrich. You know–the usual indicators of material greed, hypocrisy-in-the-service-of-power, and garden variety demagoguery and pandering to anti-intellectualism.
Okay, “ho-hum,” but now check this out:
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann explained her skepticism of evolution on Friday and said students should be taught the theory of intelligent design.
“I support intelligent design,” Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans following her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference. “What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.”
Yes, “letting students decide.” Thanks to the beautiful mind of the woman someone wittier than I referred to as “Sarah Palin’s body double,” we have a new benchmark. Putting all science on the table: Alchemy? Put it on the table. Astrology? On the table. Phrenology? Table. Ouija boards? Cue Roy Scheider: “We’re gonna need a bigger table.”
“Conservatism,” which used to be synonymous with respect for traditional methods of pedagogy and instruction, with reverence for time-tested truths (as opposed to the romantic indulgence of changeable fads and “movements”), with proven, objective knowledge, is now, at least in its Republican form, happy to convert education into shopping.
“This? We call this ‘Darwinian evolution.’ Some people–elitist-types–like it, yes. But now take a look at this. We call it ‘Intelligent Design.’ Isn’t it reassuring? Isn’t it nicer, to believe that the whole big fat universe is a gift made especially for you, by a powerful, loving Daddy who will give you your own room (in–talk about location, location, location–Heaven!) once you’re dead? So many of our customers tell us it makes them feel special. Which do you prefer?”
Students, who by definition exist in a state of knowledge deficit with respect to their teachers; who sit in classrooms in order to be told what they don’t know, are invited, by the smiling Bachmann, to consider themselves, a priori, competent enough to choose between the scientific and the supernatural and, in fact, anything else that’s “on the table.”
Then again, “I support intelligent design” could be said to transform education into politics conducted by other means. What matters isn’t what’s true–or, at the very least, what’s as true as anything can be said to be, short of formal axiomatic definition. Rather, let’s inculcate those classrooms of twelve-year-old schmucks (who think they’re being educated–isn’t it cute and endearing, how naive children can be?)…let’s “teach” them what we support. Then, when their level of education places them midway down the list of nations, somewhere between Ivory Coast and Sri Lanka, we can blame the teacher’s union and “public education.”
Or perhaps the consumer metaphor is wrong. Maybe Bachmann intends for students to be, not shoppers, but jurors. After all, she mentions “reasonable doubt.” Setting aside the mind-twisting conundrum of what “reasonable doubt” can possibly mean when applied to religion, still: which of us hasn’t seen Law & Order ten thousand times, and derived therefrom a pretty good working courtroom knowledge of Reasonable Doubt?
Twenty-four hundred years since Aristotle; thousands and thousands of scientists, amateur geologists and paleontologists, lab technicians, and science writers all working in good faith and subjecting their findings to peer review; literally tons of fossils, imprints, skeletons, and remains; theories leading to predictions which are, in turn, confirmed; in sum, several civilization’s worth of physical evidence to support evolution: and against all this, a story, a myth, with not a speck of evidence to support its claims and, in fact, an array of rival stories and myths of equal (i.e., zero) plausibility. This is what this candidate for Congress calls “reasonable doubt.”
(Same thing with global warming. Quoth she, on the floor of the House: “Carbon dioxide is a natural by-product of nature. It occurs in earth. It is part of the regular life-cycle of earth.” Of course, so is yersinia pestis. You may remember it from such epochal events in European history as The Plague.)
One knew this was coming. One knew that Michele Bachmann, even more than Palin, “presents with” (as we say on House) a sublime combination of apparently sincere stupidity, undisguised political calculation, provincial intelligence and taste, and delusional mental dysfunction. The more she can be seen to be the standard-bearer of the Republican cause in 2012, the worse for America.
Although the better for Dems. Let her to her own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day that she will say hilarious, embarrassing, and self-defeating things. Meanwhile, GOP: At long last, have you no shame?
Two hours later (barely), and I’m woefully behind the Breaking Crazy Bachmann curve. Michele’s latest theory is that President Obama is secretly a right-wing Republican. Dig it:
“This hasn’t been talked about very much — the president’s plan for senior citizens is Obamacare,” Ms. Bachmann told party activists here. She added, “I think very likely what the president intends is that Medicare will go broke and ultimately that answer will be Obamacare for senior citizens.”
As Steve Benen notes in the linked piece, “In practical terms, Bachmann apparently thinks the president is secretly right-wing — she believes Obama wants to end the existing system of socialized medicine for seniors, and force these millions of seniors into the private insurance market.”
The question this raises isn’t, “Does she ever listen to the things she says?” (worthy a question though it is), but, rather, isn’t there anyone around her who isn’t insane? Not that I’m complaining. Well, that’s not true. I am complaining. But if you’re going to have a candidate for national office filling the electorate’s brains with nonsense, at least let it be obvious nonsense. That’s what I always say. Well, not always. But I’m saying it here.