by Ted Manna
Cocoa Beach, Fla.
August 25, 2011
THE SOLAR STATE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- A piece that appeared in Rolling Stone a few weeks ago outlined the unique brand of crazy that is U.S Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Matt Taibbi wrote the following: "There are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously.
"When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a [jerk], that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies."
I usually agree with Taibbi's writing, and think he is a great political reporter. But I think he is wrong on this point.
The glorification of ignorance in the United States means someone like Bachmann, the head of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and someone who might be best described as Sarah Palin with more drive and ambition, is now one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination.
And neck-and-neck with Bachmann is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who might be best described as a more ignorant, more disingenuous, and more fundamentalist version of ex-President George W. Bush.
There's not much difference between Perry and Bachmann. Both are involved with the "Reconstructionist" wing of fundamentalist Christianity, the folks who want to impose biblical law upon the nation and who believe the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God.
And yes, Mr. Taibbi, they both deserve to be mercilessly mocked by every American that is a member in good standing of the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.
I believe that educated intellect, not religious dogma, should guide public policy. I believe that facts, science and logic are more valid ways to make decisions than trusting one's "gut."
Unfortunately for our nation, ignorance and religious dogma seem to have the upper hand. Instinct has overtaken reason, and the Republican Party, a political party that used to have ideas, principles and grounding in the reality-based world, is now reduced to an embarrassment.
Stupidity has always been with us. It just now seems to brand itself better and has become more acceptable.
How did this happen?
I like to refer to one of the great treatises on the subject in recent years, "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free," by Charles P. Pierce,
In what he calls "the Three Great Premises of Idiot America," he neatly sums up how we got to the point where Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry are considered presidential timber.
The First Great Premise: "Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units."
The Second Great Premise: "Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough."
Finally, the Third Great Premise: "Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it."
There, in a nutshell, are the guiding rules not just for Fox News, but for wide swaths of American life.
It is why there is a "debate" over Darwin's theory of evolution and whether the Earth's climate is changing. It is why some people still believe Saddam Hussein's Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the plotting of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It is why some people believe that President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist Fascist Nazi Communist who is out to enslave white people and take away their guns.
Fox News and its precursor, conservative talk radio, definitely meet Pierce's first premise. Both make money by manipulating the emotions of a small, but noisy, group of people.
As for Pierce's second premise, it is an example of how our national debate has devolved into argument.
"Debate no longer consists of thesis and antithesis, moving forward to synthesis; it is now a matter of choosing up sides, finding someone on your team to sally forth, and then laying the wood to each other," writes Pierce. "[They have] helped shove the way we talk to each other about even the most important topics almost entirely into the field of entertainment."
Politicval comedian Stephen Colbert has popularized the word "truthiness," which epitomizes Pierce's third premise.
As Colbert defined it, it is "truth that comes from the gut, not books." Or, as the American Dialect Society defined it, it is "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true."
It has been definitively established that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. It has been definitively established that the Earth's temperature is warming and the planet's climate is changing, perhaps irrevocably. It has been definitively established that God did not create mankind and the universe in seven days. Yet those who fervently believe the opposite are given equal footing in the public sphere and their stances rarely are questioned.
Television in general, and Fox News in particular, can be blamed for this.
"'Fact' is now defined as something believed by so many people that television notices their belief," writes Pierce. "In the war on expertise that is central to the rise of Idiot America, television is both the battlefield and the armory."
And, Pierce writes, "if something feels right, it must be treated with the same respect given something that is actually right. If something is felt deeply, it must carry the same weight as something that is true. If there are two sides to every argument - or, more to the point, if there are people willing to take up two sides to every argument - they both must be right or, at least, equally valid."
This is not a blueprint for rational discussion. As we've seen over the course of the past few months in the fight over raising the federal debt ceiling and asking the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes, rationality has left the building.
We still have 14 months before next November's presidential election, and the flood tide of stupid is not even close to cresting. The fate of our nation rests upon the tens of millions of Americans who reject reason, rationality and their own self-interest to support candidates and policies that will destroy our nation and turn back the clock to the 19th Century.
This will not turn out well.
AR Chief Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.