Thursday, September 17, 2015

The ideology of stupid

Image from a real article, in Car & Driver, 2011.

So I too made myself watch the Republican candidates' "debate", or quite a lot of it, doing the family laundry—every time I resurfaced from the basement the 18-year-old said "You missed everything!" He was talking about the WWE trash-talking aspect, which dominated the production, as it was clearly intended to do, with all the questions directed by Jake Tapper to provoke quarrels: "Well, Cheryl says she saw you whispering to Bobby in algebra class, is that correct?"

On the plus side, Tapper tended to shut people up after some fixed number of seconds if they refused to answer the question at all, as they all did, in favor of a carefully composed aria displaying their "knowledge" of the general subject or asserting that they had dealt with something relevant in the course of their careers. This has of course always been a central element of the political "debate" since its advent in 1960; Tapper wielding the hook lent the proceedings an enjoyable note of Live-at-the-Apollo hilarity.

One of the new things, perhaps special for the evening and the Tapper technique, was that Trump seemed nearly always to have some kind of rebuttal rights; maybe because nearly all the questions were in some sense about him, and certainly for the CNN production values of making the atmosphere seem as uncomfortable and hostile as possible, as well as for the needs of the poor back-row group that can't get any attention at all (Walker has turned out to be such a parochial mouse!), this was ideal.

The aria stars were Rubio and Fiorina, and it was sad to see Tapper cut them off in mid-peroration, just before the cadenza, Fiorina for example, if I'm remembering right, just as she was proposing to deal with Putin by stationing "thousands" of troops in Germany (how many more than the 40,000 that are already in the 179 US bases there, may I ask, and have you cleared this with the German government?). Christie suggested his experience as a US attorney had prepared him to take Hillary Clinton to court and personally prosecute her, for Benghazi war crimes I guess. I don't know whether he is going back to the early-republic style of thinking of the president as a magistrate or is just as ignorant of the Constitution as Huckabee (who persisted in his theory that the Supreme Court's power of judicial review is imaginary in any given case unless Congress says their opinion is OK).

Incidentally, Dr. Carson turns out to have been against the Afghanistan invasion, or so he claims to have told President Bush one day when they were hanging together over at the White House (and this man is proud of how he's not a Washington insider!). He or some other anti-war activist, Trump or Paul I suppose, thought the Taliban could have been forced to yield up Osama Bin Laden by economic means, such as encouraging more oil production in the continental US, which would, um, what? Lower the price of the fuel Afghanistan buys from Iran? I'm pretty sure the candidate also said it would take ten years but work immediately.

The aria format is favorable to the lie direct, as in Trump's fervent explanation that he had not ever been bankrupt, the long and short of which was, I think, that in his frequent contests with bankruptcy he always comes out a winner; chapter 11 controls its victims, Trump controls chapter 11. Cruz is the champion of packing lies in like Nathan's hot dogs in the Fourth of July contest, for his astonishing rendition of every lie ever told about the Iran agreement, but for sheer emotional power we want to salute Carly Fiorina, who was practically in tears over the butchery of innocent babies that is the specialty of the Planned Parenthood—
—referring in the most pathetic terms to the awful scenes from that video, and urging liberals to watch it, although the scenes described actually don't exist, making her delusional (or perhaps drugged) on a Ronald Reagan level.

A question toward the end (Tapper announced that it was "light-hearted", apparently because it had to do with women), was the question of which woman's face belonged on the ten-dollar bill, but the candidates had a lot of difficulty thinking of any American women that they weren't related to:

But the big favorite was Rosa Parks; you might wonder how this lifelong committed leftist activist got on their list, but of course to them she was just a sweet old seamstress whose feet got tired one day, and a real conservative like Dr. King:

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine may have the most important take on the event, in pointing out how much stupidity—not just epistemic closure but episteme locked up like a chastity belt, the complete detachment of belief from evidence—is now an openly central, positive, valued element of the Republican way; as when he singled out Rubio on Tapper's question about climate change, whether it might be wise to think about a policy just in case 97% of scientists engaged in research on the issue might be right: "We're not going to destroy our economy." No evidence of the ongoing destruction of our physical environment will shake me from my conviction that we should not respond to it. We should all die—if that's what's happening and I don't want to know whether it is or not—because if we don't some people might lose their jobs.

Read: if my crackpot theory about the economy is true, acting on climate change might make me lose some votes, but if geophysical catastrophe hits the planet nobody will blame me for not acting, so the former is obviously more serious.

And Rubio (the sensible one, in the view of the sensible Republicans, Salam and Levin and Brooks and Brooks) had a similar last word on geopolitics:
Trump at one point implicitly defended his lack of foreign-policy knowledge on the grounds that the current administration had many knowledgable people (true) and the world was on fire (questionable). This open attack on brainpower would have been astonishing, except that Marco Rubio repeated it himself, declaring, “Radical terrorism cannot be solved by intellect.”
That's correct about Trump; it startled me a lot, he was literally claiming he didn't need any information, because he's so awesome he'll pick up whatever he needs when he gets to the office. I missed the Rubio—maybe I was pulling clothes out of the dryer—but what a summary of what all these warring candidates have in common: agreeing that whatever the problem, thinking about it is the last thing you want to do.

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