Friday, March 09, 2012

It counts for something that Paul Krugman hasn't yielded to the Willardite imperative: "Give up!"


"[W]hat about people like Mr. Romney? Don't they have a stake in America's future economic success, which is endangered by the crusade against education? Maybe not as much as you think.

"After all, over the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers. You can make the case that the self-interest of America's elite is best served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in terms of poor infrastructure and an undertrained work force."

-- Paul Krugman, in his NYT column today, "Ignorance Is Strength"

by Ken

Luckily, Howie has been keeping up on what needs to be said about the ongoingly excruciating struggle for the GOP presidential nomination in the wake of not-so-Super Tuesday. I've been trying to think of some new way of saying what's been true since the ordeal began: The only thing more bizarre than knowing that Willard Inc. is going to be the eventual nominee is observing the human sludge that has stood between him and the inevitable.

How wrenching is it to realize that at this point Willard can't wrap this thing up because Republican voters keep voting for Rick Santorum and Noot Gingrich? I'm not sure I have the measuring instruments you'd need to ascertain whether any of these three slugs is a "better" or "worse" idea as POTUS than any of the others. But still, the idea that anyone in his or her right mind would give even a moment's consideration to voting for Rick Santorum or Noot Gingrich boggles the mind.

I'm not sure the WaPo blurb-writer intended this blurb -- from a post-primary "Today's Headlines" e-mail -- quite the way I read it, but it does establish a certain tone that resonates for me:

Give up! Yes indeed, that's what this presidential season has come down to. Ya might as well give up now. The same thing will be true once Willard is hailed as the nominee and his party grumpily sort-of-unites behind him (probably a good distance behind him). Those poor devils have been so brainwashed with bogusly based Obama hatred that they can't begin to understand why so many of us will be voting to reelect with such despondence. But is it really possible to imagine withholding a vote that might lead to the election of the Republican nominee?

Luckily (yes, again!), Paul Krugman is paid to think seriously about this unholy mess we find ourselves in, and he continues to do so. Today's column, "Ignorance Is Strength," strikes me as one of his important ones.

In pondering the swamp of filth and human degradation into which the 21st-century Republican Party and conservative movement have fallen -- no, leapt -- is the bellicose worship of ignorance and its one-better, out-and-out lies. I continue to insist that I'm not being hyperbolic when I insist that every word out of the mouth of every right-winger is a lie. Oh sure, there are those who don't know that they're lies, because again mind-consuming ignorance has become such a crucial part of the right-wing "mentality." But as I've also continued to insist, one of the reasons right-wing pols have become so smitten with lies -- beyond the evident reality that there is no longer any price to be paid for lying -- is that a good part of the American public has been conditioned to expect, or even demand, lies.

Oh (again!), maybe they don't own up to the fact that they're lies; they've been conditioned to believe that they can assess the reality of proffered "realities" is how such proffers make them feel. The condition for "truth" is "makes me feel good"; the condition for "untruth" is "makes me feel not good." (And remember, feelings like "Ooh, I just hate that Kenyan Muslim bum Obama," while they might seem like examples of "feeling bad" to people of healthy mind and disposition, in fact qualify as "feeling good" for minds that have been destroyed by right-wing mis-education.

Which, by chance, brings us to the subject of Paul K's anger today: the politically motivated utter betrayal of American education. "One way in which Americans have always been exceptional," he begins, "has been in our support for education." He reviews that history a bit before coming to the far-from-expectable reality that "remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition" -- as exemplified by candidates Santorum and Willard, respectively.
About that hostility: Mr. Santorum made headlines by declaring that President Obama wants to expand college enrollment because colleges are "indoctrination mills" that destroy religious faith. But Mr. Romney's response to a high school senior worried about college costs is arguably even more significant, because what he said points the way to actual policy choices that will further undermine American education.

Here's what the candidate told the student: "Don't just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And, hopefully, you'll find that. And don't expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on."

Wow. So much for America's tradition of providing student aid. And Mr. Romney's remarks were even more callous and destructive than you may be aware, given what's been happening lately to American higher education.

For the past couple of generations, choosing a less expensive school has generally meant going to a public university rather than a private university. But these days, public higher education is very much under siege, facing even harsher budget cuts than the rest of the public sector. Adjusted for inflation, state support for higher education has fallen 12 percent over the past five years, even as the number of students has continued to rise; in California, support is down by 20 percent.

One result has been soaring fees. Inflation-adjusted tuition at public four-year colleges has risen by more than 70 percent over the past decade. So good luck on finding that college "that has a little lower price."

Another result is that cash-strapped educational institutions have been cutting back in areas that are expensive to teach -- which also happen to be precisely the areas the economy needs. For example, public colleges in a number of states, including Florida and Texas, have eliminated entire departments in engineering and computer science.

The damage these changes will inflict -- both to our nation's economic prospects and to the fading American dream of equal opportunity -- should be obvious. So why are Republicans so eager to trash higher education?

He doesn't find the hostility of the Santorum-friendly wing of the party mysterious.
His specific claim that college attendance undermines faith is, it turns out, false. But he's right to feel that our higher education system isn't friendly ground for current conservative ideology. And it's not just liberal-arts professors: among scientists, self-identified Democrats outnumber self-identified Republicans nine to one.

I guess Mr. Santorum would see this as evidence of a liberal conspiracy. Others might suggest that scientists find it hard to support a party in which denial of climate change has become a political litmus test, and denial of the theory of evolution is well on its way to similar status.

Here Paul is resorting to perhaps-dangerous understatement. I have no difficulty putting it more bluntly: This wing of the party (and the conservative movement) has given itself over to an active, even violent hatred for truth and reality. They regard truth and reality, no doubt rightly, as their mortal enemy.

But what about people like Willard? We've already seen Paul's answer to this very question, at the top of this post. Let's back up a little and then let him continue:
[O]ver the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers. You can make the case that the self-interest of America's elite is best served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in terms of poor infrastructure and an undertrained work force.

And if underfunding public education leaves many children of the less affluent shut out from upward mobility, well, did you really believe that stuff about creating equality of opportunity?

So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical break with America's tradition of valuing education. And they have made this break because they believe that what you don't know can't hurt them.

Again, these supposed supporters of "traditional values" have in fact "made a radical breeak with America's tradition of valuing education." I suppose you could also argue -- I guess I would argue -- that the strain of militantly boastful and bullying ignorance is as deeply embedded in American culture as the "tradition of valuing education." Only now an entire "major" party has embraced it.

In case you weren't already, be afraid. What was that message from the Willardites? Give up!

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