Nel's New Day

May 25, 2012

Conservatives Display Ignorance

While some authors are writing about how conservative minds are hard-wired to believe the way that they do (a really scary thought!), Eric Alterman writes about their ignorance. He doesn’t claim that conservatives are stupid; they just refuse to believe facts and reality. Maybe call it a “war on knowledge.” His position matches the survey last year that Fox watchers, known to be largely conservative, are not only much less knowledgeable but also more misinformed that those who get their news from other media.

Most of the people I know (other than a few family members) agree that global warming is a serious problem caused by human activity; 97 percent of climate scientists with credentials have the same opinion. Yet every one—yes, every one—of the 21 Republican candidates who ran for Senate in the last election deny any global warming. They call it “fraudulent science” (Sharon Angle – NV) or “sunspot activity” (Ron Johnson – WI). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), on the short list for Mitt Romney’s vice-president said, “The climate is always changing.” Some claim a global “conspiracy,” although they may be closer to the truth of a conspiracy to not believe in it because most of them received lots of oil money for their campaigns.

Conservatives starting building this monumental ignorance when the Reagan administration considered defunding government support for social science through the National Science Foundation. People who formed the Consortium of Social Science Associations saved it, but conservatives are currently trying to eliminate all government funds for political science research. Newt Gringrich did manage to destroy the Office of Technology Assessment that provided Congress from 1972 to 1995 with nonpartisan analyses of complex scientific and technical issues.

Recently the House tried to abolish the American Community Survey—a crucial government data collection that has existed in various manifestations since 1850. As Catherine Rampell of The New York Times Economix blog explains, it “tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.” The government uses this source to annually appropriately allocate $400 billion in government funds.

Showing the swelling ignorance of Congressional legislators, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) said, “This is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.” He obviously has no idea that scientific surveys are “random surveys.” Nor does he understand that law enforcement relies on this data to predict such crimes as meth production and private industry uses the results of the American Community Survey. In addition, the money that legislators think would be saved is then spent on the census because the annual survey makes the ten-year survey much cheaper.

These issues are far more serious than the ignorance shown by past potential presidential candidates such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who thinks that the shot supposedly beginning the American Revolution was fired in Concord, New Hampshire, not Massachusetts. According to Bachmann, the authors of the Constitution in the late 1700s “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States” despite the fact that these were the men who agreed, in that same Constitution, that slaves were equal to three-fifths of free men for the purposes of a voting population. She also declared that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s passage of the “Hoot-Smalley Tariff” caused the Great Depression despite the fact that Herbert Hoover passed the Tariff, and the Depression started three years before FDR was elected. And on and on, including Bachmann’s declaration that global warming is “all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”

Congressional conservatives don’t understand how computers work, as shown by the questions that they ask when considering blocking rights to websites. They don’t even understand how “babies are made,” as shown by their explanation of why they want to pass a “personhood” amendment to the Constitution.

The conservatives’ ignorance just doesn’t stop. “Asking a conservative pundit for advice on race is like asking an ayatollah for advice on preparing the Christmas ham,” said Leonard Pitts. Lawrence Krauss said, “It is not too late for the public to turn their back on candidates that turn their back on empirical reality and scientific progress.” (I really hope so!) Conservatives’ total ignorance this spring about women’s policies has inundated the media. Their only solution is to keep women from making any decisions.

Conservatives want others to be ignorant too. Although they sometimes talk about the importance of education, as Romney has done recently, they don’t want youth to have any sex education. They want teenage girls to get pregnant  and then force them to have the child in the conservative world where the government refuses to help the uneducated pregnant teens and the young mothers.

As for college, Santorum finally backed down on his comment about what a snob Obama is to want all young people to have some sort of higher education. Romney, on the other hand, sticks to his suggestion that young people who can’t afford college should join the military. He also goes along with the rest of the conservatives to make the interest for federal student loans twice as much as the interest on mortgages is at this time.

The ultimate ignorance that will destroy this country is the conservatives’ denial of the reasons behind our poor economy and the answers to solving it. Lack of regulations and far lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations have led to extremely high income inequity between the top 1 percent and the rest of the people in the country. This in turn has led to increased polarization between political views with the far-right refusing to compromise. The nation is moving toward the far-right because the wealthy can now afford to buy the deniers and the ignorant who make the economic situation worse by eradicating the middle class through their attacks on unions.

According to economists, austerity is not the answer, but conservative legislators refuse to recognize this fact. They stick to their misguided belief that lowering the taxes and make massive cuts to the safety net–certainly not the defense, though–will save the country, the same way that global warming will go away if people just ignore it.

The ignorant conservatives who refuse to recognize expert knowledge have one goal: to undermine government programs and move more taxes into the hands of the wealthy.

“Wherever people sacralize something, there you will find ignorance, blindness to the truth, and resistance to evidence.”—Jonathan Haidt. That’s the movement we have in the United States.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College. This column won the 2011 Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary. His most recent book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

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