How to make a stupid party out of not-stupid people

If intended literally, references to the GOP as “the stupid party” are just nasty snark. I doubt that Republican office-holders or voters have, on average, lower IQs than their Democratic counterparts. Ted Cruz, for example, would seem to be roughly on a par, in sheer brainpower, with Barack Obama.

But there’s a deeper kind of stupidity that involves not only willful blindness to inconvenient facts – a tendency never far from human nature – but active celebration of that blindness. It is possible to make yourself stupider in practice than would be predicted by your score on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices. When that sort of rejoicing in folly becomes an accepted social practice within a group, it is fair to say that the group has a culture of stupidity.

Which brings us back to Sen. Cruz (J.D.  Harvard, magna cum laude). Using a warship as a political prop, Sen. Cruz went aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown for a national-security speech, which included the following remarkable sentence.

The last thing any commander should need to worry about is the grades he is getting from some plush-bottomed Pentagon bureaucrat for political correctness or social experiments — or providing gluten-free MREs.

The political point of the exercise, of course, was to make fun of “political correctness” and “social experiments.”

Now “political correctness” is an interesting phrase. Like “permissiveness” and “elitism,” it is designed to make a virtue (respectively, common courtesy and decency, liberty, and excellence) appear to be a vice. “Social experiments,” as used now, means integrating women and LGBT people into military service, as it once meant integrating African-Americans. In each case, the idea was to present an obvious act of justice as a risky venture.

It’s not hard to understand why some speechwriter – or perhaps Cruz himself – thought “gluten-free MREs” was a good punchline. “Gluten-free” has indeed become a rather silly food-label fad; no doubt many people are paying extra for “gluten-free” food who have no actual gluten sensitivity at all, and no doubt the marketers of such products are delighted to take advantage of their vague impression that gluten, like cholesterol, is something vaguely bad and to be avoided. And of course any food preference or aversion can be made to seem funny to those who do not share it: no doubt most South Carolinians think that eating kimchee and not eating grits reflect equally risible tastes, while most South Koreans think the same about eating grits and not eating kimchee.

However, as I was able to learn in less than five minutes of Googling, about 1% of the U.S. white population – and no doubt a similar share of servicemembers – suffers from celiac disease, and an unknown but probably larger share of the population suffers from other gluten-sensitivity conditions.

If you have the misfortune to suffer from one of these disorders, a gluten-free diet isn’t a joke, it’s a necessity. And it appears that most people who do so suffer aren’t aware of the source of their distress. Under those circumstances, and given that the military buys MREs by the carload and can easily get them made to any set of specifications, it seems obvious that, where logistically possible, gluten-sensitive servicemembers should be given food that is healthy for them to eat.

Again, Sen. Cruz is plenty smart enough, in the IQ sense, to be able to figure that out. If he’d taken a minute to think about it, he could have substituted “GMO-free” or “BST-free” for “gluten-free,” making the same point and getting the same laugh without making fun of people in uniform with genetically-determined digestive problems. But he couldn’t be bothered, and within the current culture of the Republican Party he will likely pay no political price for his blunder.

And that, my friends, is stupid.

What is the conservative plan on health care?

With the Iowa caucuses 48 hours away, poor Ted Cruz just can’t catch a break. His debate performance was lame, his campaign got caught playing Big Brother with voters, and now he - rather than any of his competitors - had to field the killer question on Obamacare.

An Iowa voter confronted him at a town hall and told  the story of the voter’s wife’s brother,  a hard-working self-employed barber who couldn’t afford health insurance until the ACA came along. Then he felt sick, went in for a check-up, and was diagnosed with inoperable late-stage cancer. The voter’s question was straightforward: if you repeal Obamacare, what replaces it for people like my wife’s brother? (Left unspoken: if ACA had passed earlier, the brother-in-law might have lived.)

Cruz expressed ritual sympathy and immediately pivoted to his health-care talking points. The voter pressed for a real answer, but Cruz didn’t have one for him, just as none of his competitors would have had one. No Republican has proposed any actual substitute for the ACA formula of affordable health insurance for everyone who wants it.

Now, there’s an honest conservative/libertarian answer to that voter’s question; I’ve heard it from friends on that side of  the aisle. It goes more or less like this: Continue reading “What is the conservative plan on health care?”

The Party of Hate

Bill Whittle, warming up a Texas GOP crowd for Ted Cruz, urges killing Californians at random. Cruz does not object.

I agree with Ed Kilgore that the pundit blah about “partisanship” - with its implicit assumption of equivalence - ignores the frequency and virulence of pure hate speech within even relatively respectable precincts on the Right. I’m not shocked when some Faux News ranter wows a Texas GOP audience by joking about murdering Californians at random. But Bill Whittle did so as a warm-up act for Ted Cruz, who is discussed seriously as a Presidential candidate, and Cruz did not object. Worse, as far as I can tell no one among the Red commentariat, or in Red Blogistan, has objected, either. (Consider this a bleg for exceptions.)

Note that Whittle’s speech was much, much nastier than anything the Rev. Mr. Wright ever said, and there’s no question that Cruz heard every word. And yet - so far - none of the GOP fans who populated the fainting couch over the Wright sermons seems to have a problem with this. Worse, I can confidently predict that if Cruz does become a Presidential candidate, the mainstream media won’t see this as a story on a par with the Wright story. Hate speech on the right is simply dog-bites man.

Footnote Yes, there’s plenty of regional bigotry among bicoastal progressives, and hearing “cracker” or “redneck” used as pejoratives makes me queasy. But I’ve never heard anyone on the Blue team express the idea, even in jest, that killing Texas, just as Texans, would be a good idea.

Cross one more off the list

Rand Paul votes to dishonor the country, wreck its credit, and tank the world economy. Not gonna be President.

Glad to see that Rand Paul, as well as Ted Cruz, voted to dishonor the country, wreck its credit, and tank the world economy. The list of Republicans who might actually get elected President in 2016 continues to shrink. (And that’s leaving aside the delicious but implausible prospect of a Jesse Ventura/Howard Stern third-party ticket.)


Update  Make that two more. Purported grown-up Paul Ryan (who’s always struck me more as a five-year-old wearing her mother’s high heels) also voted for national bankruptcy and disgrace. Since he’s a favorite of the plutocracy, I doubt the Chamber would really withhold its cash were he the nominee. But it seems to me that Hillary could pound him into the ground with it.

So yeah, the Heritage Foundation hosts a “Jesse Helms” lecture series…

Senator Cruz got in trouble for praising Jesse Helms the other day. In particular, Cruz is quoted as saying: “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.” This is a ridiculous thing to say. But the most ridiculous and indecent aspect of this story isn’t anything Cruz actually said. It’s the simple fact that the Heritage Foundation chooses to host such a lecture series in the first place.

I won’t bore you with a recitation of the many, many examples of Helms’ awfulness over his long career. My personal favorite was Helms’ charming habit of referring to African-American men, out of earshot, with the uniform moniker, “Fred.”. But wow, there’s much choose from, ranging from his opposition to civil rights to his disparagement of immigrants  to his concerted opposition at the worst possible moment to effective measures against HIV/AIDS.

The normally mild-mannered David Broder nailed it on Helms’ retirement:

What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country — a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired…. [T]he squeamishness of much of the press in characterizing Helms for what he is suggests an unwillingness to confront the reality of race in our national life.

My own paper, The Washington Post, carried three stories about Helms’s departure. In their 54 paragraphs, exactly two — the 10th paragraph of one story and the last paragraph of another — alluded to the subject of race.

Rather than say more, I simply offer this inspired bit of ACT-UP guerilla theatre in the video below. If Republicans wish to establish a decent, inclusive party, some house cleaning is in order.