Change or Die

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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So lots of Republicans are saying “Change or Die” in the wake of their big losses in 2006 and 2008, but like liberal denialists, most are looking only at the most superficial cosmetic changes. Try some real reform.

In the wake of any serious defeat, ideologues right and left have one standard rationalization. We weren't radical enough. Marxism failed because none of the states that implemented it practiced pure Marxism.

There have been elections in recent American history where one party or the other simply couldn't have won regardless what they did or who they nominated. In 1964, the nation was still mourning John F. Kennedy and responded to Lyndon Johnson's seeming desire to carry on Kennedy's legacy. It would have been nearly impossible for any Republican to win, but a strong conservative like Barry Goldwater didn't stand a chance. In 1972, the social disruption of the 1960's finally provoked the backlash that leftists said would never come. In 1976, public outrage over Watergate played a large role in the outcome. Maybe Gerald Ford could have beaten Jimmy Carter if he'd allowed a show trial of Richard Nixon and paraded his head through the streets on a pike, but maybe not. And in 2008, the collapse of the banking system created a perfect storm that guaranteed the defeat of any imaginable Republican candidate. And candidates didn't get much more ideological than Barry Goldwater or George McGovern, who lost by some of the greatest popular and electoral margins in U.S. history.

So the "we weren't far enough right (or left)" excuse is nothing more than a rationalization to avoid the painful fact that the voters just plain rejected you. There are always more voters toward the center than toward the fringe. But that won't stop people from using this excuse. If Ron Paul had run in 2008 as the Republican candidate and pulled 20% of the vote and no electoral votes, right wing denialists would have said he wasn't libertarian enough.

Here's a five point plan for turning things around for conservatives. It won't happen.

Evolution

First, admit to being wrong about evolution. Liberals get into some pretty silly causes, but social issues are fuzzy and don't have clear cut answers. On the other hand, it takes a very special kind of stupid to deny physical reality. Conservatives lament the "academic monoculture" in which liberals vastly outnumber conservatives among academics. There isn't a ghost of a chance of making a dent in this issue as long as conservatives are identified with anti-evolutionism. They might as well come out in favor of a flat earth or geocentrism. A fatal wound can't get much more fatal.

"Oh, you need to read Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black Box," I've been told when I've tried to make this point to some conservatives. I have. Here's my analysis.

The Environment

Second, admit to being wrong on the environment. All of it. Every single major issue. Peak oil, endangered species, climate change, and especially the voodoo economics used to justify opposition to environmentalism. Trillions of dollars to implement Kyoto? Terrible. Trillions of dollars to bail out the architects of crackpot investment schemes? Meh. We can do that.

The "credentials" of the "experts" who deny climate change are a pitiful joke. And the quality of the scientific arguments cited against climate change are plummeting past even scientific creationism in quality.

Typical of the voodoo science circulating among too many conservatives is this book blurb:

In "Black Gold Stranglehold," Jerome Corsi and Craig Smith expose the fraudulent science that has made America so vulnerable: the belief that oil is a fossil fuel and that it is a finite resource. This book reveals the conclusions reached by Dr. Thomas Gold, a professor at Cornell University, in his seminal book "The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels" (Copernicus Books, 1998) and accepted by many in the scientific community that oil is not a product of fossils and prehistoric forests but rather the bio-product of a continuing biochemical reaction below the earth's surface that is brought to attainable depths by the centrifugal forces of the earth's rotation.

That's right, there's unlimited oil. The earth is producing it as fast as we use it. For those who haven't read the scientific literature in the last decade, Gold's hypothesis is that carbon in the deep earth exists in the form of methane (there is, for the record, some inorganic methane down there). It was never, repeat never, anything more than a minority view, but obviously, one worth checking out. So Gold convinced the Swedish government to drill in the Siljan Ring, a meteor crater in Precambrian rocks where conventional oil-forming processes never operated and the fractures created by the impact presumably allow deep hydrocarbons to rise. They did not find appreciable hydrocarbons. So Gold's hypothesis is pretty much a dead letter everywhere but on the crank fringe of the Right. And centrifugal force has nothing to do with the rise of hydrocarbons.

So people who hotly deny the government can create money without limit believe the earth can create oil without limit.

Until Republicans make those two pivotal reforms, reforming their stances on evolution and the environment, conservatism will be a joke in academia. Who cares? Conservatives had better. That's where future voters get indoctrinated. Conservatives don’t have a snowball’s chance of cracking the liberal academic monoculture until they stop spouting garbage science.

Republican Gotterdammerung?

After Bobby Jindal's performance responding to Barack Obama's State of the Union message, I can only conclude the Republicans are intent on mass suicide. Jindal is widely viewed as an up and coming young Republican, and here he's been asked to take the lead in responding to Barack Obama's State of the Union message. Obama is the one of the best Presidential orators ever and won by the largest margin of any non-incumbent. So if I were in Jindal's spot, from a personal and political standpoint I'd make sure I had the best possible speech, the best possible delivery, and all the facts rigorously checked.

Not only did Jindal deliver the speech clumsily, like a high school speech contestant, he picked absolutely the worst possible example in the whole stimulus bill to ridicule: volcano monitoring. $140 million to upgrade existing systems in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Cascades is dirt cheap. If a single airliner goes down because the engines stall from an ash plume out of an Aleutian volcano, it will cost more than $140 million to replace the plane and compensate the victims' families. Even a paltry lahar from Mount Rainier will do more damage. And in any case, the $140 million was an overall budgetary catchup for the US Geological Survey, of which volcano monitoring was just a small part.

I could come up with a hundred examples of regulatory programs stifling science or entitlement programs draining money from research, of PC's and NIMBY's stalling observatories and other facilities, of anti-nuclear groups trying to halt planetary missions, and of researchers being threatened by lawsuits because their findings threatened some interest group. The near theft and destruction of Kennewick Man should be a scandal that conservatives shove in the faces of liberals at every opportunity. Jindal was tapped to speak weeks ago. He couldn't find a single scientifically literate conservative to give him input on the science?

What Jindal should have done is defend the scientific spending, and infrastructure spending in general, then hammer away on the theme that the funding had to be delayed because of spending on entitlements and regulation. Not only does he come out as a defender of science and technology, he plants the seed that perhaps scientists ought to rethink their allegiance. But he blew it. Big time.

I once submitted an essay to the conservative blog site American Thinker arguing that conservatives had no chance whatsoever of being taken seriously in academia as long as they kept pushing bankrupt environmental positions and were identified with anti-evolutionism. The editor recommended I check out all the €œexpert€ sites challenging global warming and read Michael Behe.

The screaming petulance by conservatives since Obama was elected has topped even the infantile sniping at Bill Clinton. Naturally, conservatives are blameless for their loss, in fact, they argue that their only error was nominating someone who wasn't conservative enough. If Ron Paul had run as the Republican candidate and gotten 10% of the popular vote and no electoral votes, they'd still be saying he wasn't conservative enough. (Just like when - not if - Hugo Chavez goes down, his fans will say it will be because he wasn't radical enough.) It looks like the hard core Republicans are determined to hang onto their particular brands of anti-intellectualism and would rather bring conservatism down in ruins than give any of it up.

And the cavalcade of stupid just keeps rollin' along:

Information

Then there’s the masterful job conservatives have done of alienating every computer literate individual in America by trying to give away the Internet to the telecoms, the RIAA and the MPAA. To be fair, the Democrats are nearly as bad but the Republicans manage to outdo them in crackpot proposals. Orrin Hatch, who thinks it should be legal to attack the computers of file downloaders, is elected by the voters in one state, but he’s won the Democrats votes in every state by his moonbat intellectual property efforts. Nice work, there. Repeal the DMCA, rescind the Bono copyright extensions, and stop prostituting Congress to the entertainment industry. As the Writers Guild strike plainly showed, the worst intellectual property thieves in America are the MPAA and the RIAA.

Democrats were equally responsible for things like the DMCA and the Bono copyright extensions? Sure. But Republicans can lead the effort to preserve freedom of information and win the loyalty of the computer literate. If they choose to. A good indication that they choose not to was a bill introduced by Republicans in 2009 requiring all WiFi providers, even people with home systems, to maintain user logs for two years to assist the police in catching child porn users. Because actually doing police work is so tedious. And those donuts are so yummy.

Ooh, this just in. Cook County Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart filed a Federal lawsuit against Craigslist, arguing that it promotes prostitution. How stupid do you have to be to attack something that makes it easier to track clandestine crimes? Forget the fact that there have been innumerable stings against sex offenders set up on Craigslist. Not the sharpest dart in the board.

Some suggestions:

"Suck It Up, Loser" Is Not A Viable Platform

Liberals often promise rainbows and unicorns but don't deliver. One thing you can say about the conservative position on many issues: they are honest. They promise nothing, and deliver. Need help with an unwanted pregnancy? We'll be with you in nine months. No health coverage? That cancer will stop growing eventually.

"Technically Correct, But Useless"

There's a joke about a businessman who needed a helicopter to get him from Seattle to the airport, but the chopper got lost in dense fog. When the chopper came close enough to a building to look in the window, the pilot took out a marker and pad and wrote "Where am I?" Someone in the building wrote "You are in a helicopter." The pilot veered away and in a few minutes found the airport.

The businessman asked the pilot how he was able to find his way on such scanty information. The pilot answered: "I knew that was Microsoft headquarters. The answer they gave was technically correct, but useless for any practical purpose."

A lot of defenses of conservatism these days are along the same lines. Consider, for example, the argument that rent control in cities discourages the construction of housing. If rents are capped at, say, $1000 a month, that discourages people from building housing. From a classical economic standpoint, the argument is dead on target. But it doesn't answer the real question: if we remove rent controls and stimulate new housing, will any of the new housing rent for $1000 a month? In New York, many older buildings are rent controlled but newer ones aren't. Do any of the new apartments rent for prices comparable to rent controlled apartments? If the answer is no, then the fact that the market encourages more housing is useless in practical terms. The market will always provide services to people with money.

So, sure, an unregulated free market might just drive down health care costs. If it doesn't drive them down to levels affordable to the people who are now uninsured, who cares?

Like It Or Not, Government Is Part Of The Free Market

Regardless of who first noted that democracies can exist only "until the citizens discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury," the fact remains that Americans have discovered it. And therefore, once enough voters become convinced the Government can provide a product, they will flock to buy it. If some candidate offers a product (or the illusion of one) and enough people want it, the only way to prevent him from getting elected is to offer something better. In other words, competition.

"We can't compete against free?" Take it to someone who cares. "Free" is on the table, and if you don't beat it somehow, you will lose. Unfair? So what? The Universe doesn't deal in fair. The universe has a perverse habit of posing unsolvable problems with mutually incompatible constraints.

Want to blunt the power of unions? Offer workers better protection than unions offer. Want to weaken the teachers' unions? The biggest single driver of teacher unions is that sacred cow of conservatism, local control of the schools. When teachers can teach interesting and provocative material in class and be sure the administration will back them against dimwit parents, then conservatives might just catch a break among teachers.

Want to keep government regulations to a minimum? Have safety and environmental practices so squeaky clean that government regulation would be seen as a step down.

The problems with health care are obvious. It's increasingly too expensive for employers. Insurance mires patients and doctors in paperwork. Insurers and drug companies want returns on their investments. Want the government out of health care? Come up with something better. People who claim to be brilliant enough to know that biologists are wrong about evolution and climatologists are wrong about climate change ought to find this a piece of cake.

Want freedom of choice in schools? The time to set that up was before there was a movement to create public schools. If every town had an affordable private school, there would have been no market for public schools.

Walk The Walk

Since conservatives are often characterized as hawks on military matters, the first reform is a no-brainer: conservatives must not support any candidate who hasn't served in the military. (Me? 21 years active and Reserve, deployments to the Gulf War and Bosnia, retired master sergeant, thank you. And you?) For rare justified exceptions we might allow alternatives like the Peace Corps, several years as a Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and so on.

How hard can it be to find candidates who stay faithful to their spouses, pay taxes honestly, drive sober, avoid shady business practices, obey the law, and don't troll for sex in public rest rooms? Pretty hard, apparently. If conservatives want to run on moral values, they need to put up candidates who practice those values. Have an affair, get arrested, drive drunk, your career in conservative politics is over. Or get addicted to pain-killers - Rush?


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Created 10 January 2009;  Last Update 15 December, 2011

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