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Saturday, September 12, 2015


Rolling back the Renaissance

by Tom Sullivan

"Gullibility is the new civic duty," Charlie Pierce wrote in describing the Carly Fiorina SuperPAC, Carly For America. The Federal Election Commission rule against coordination between SuperPACs and campaigns they support is one "everybody knows but to which very few people pay attention." It may look like a campaign, act like a campaign, and raise money like a campaign, but it's not:

At a typ­ic­al Fior­ina cam­paign stop, a CARLY For Amer­ica staffer was sta­tioned at a table out­side of the event space to sign up at­tendees for the su­per PAC’s email list. An­oth­er staffer handed out CARLY For Amer­ica stick­ers to at­tendees as they ar­rived. When Fior­ina and her staff entered the event, they were usu­ally met by a room covered in red “CARLY” signs and tables covered in pro-Fior­ina lit­er­at­ure, all pro­duced by CARLY For Amer­ica.

If a reg­u­lar voter at­ten­ded every cam­paign stop and handed out fly­ers telling someone to vote for that can­did­ate, the cost of print­ing would count as an in-kind ex­pendit­ure. Both Fior­ina’s cam­paign and CARLY For Amer­ica main­tain that the work be­ing done by the su­per PAC does not con­sti­tute an in-kind con­tri­bu­tion to the cam­paign, but an in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ure. But elec­tion-law ex­perts say that, in ef­fect, the su­per PAC is provid­ing a ser­vice by staff­ing the events.

But evidence is so Enlightenment, you know? It is the enemy of gullibility. Faith, ideology? Those are now the coin of the realm. Mike Huckabee can claim that "the Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land, which says that black people aren’t fully human,” in defending Kim Davis' claims of religious persecution. He can ignore the 14th Amendment. It just muddies the ideological waters. Evidence is inconvenient like that. If might makes right, so does faith ... in whatever.

In spite of “evidence-based policymaking” finding at least rhetorical bipartisan support in Washington, Politico reports there is "a quiet war on the idea" in Washington. In climate science, gun violence, violent crime, health care, and education research, Congress is either blocking funding or cutting it. Even the American Enterprise Institute is alarmed by proposed cuts to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), writes Harry Stein:

The decision by Congress to weaken its own ability to gather and process evidence might be the most troubling example of how Congress has lost interest in applying evidence to inform public policy. These budget cuts undermine vital nonpartisan institutions within the legislative branch, including the policy experts at the Congressional Research Service and the investigators at the Government Accountability Office. These institutions are critical sources for Congress to get credible research and evaluation of public policy from experts who are independent from the executive branch. Budget cuts also make it harder for members and committees of Congress to hire and retain their own top-notch policy staff to understand complex issues, which makes legislators more dependent on expertise from lobbyists and interest groups.

There you are. Because dependency on the government is bad for you. Government dependency on lobbyists is good for America. They prefer it that way.

The irony about evidence falling on hard times is that when I arrived here in the 1990s, the New Age was in full flower-power. As Larry Massett observed in “A Night on Mt. Shasta” (recorded during the Harmonic Convergence), "I met a lot of people I liked and almost no one I believed." People following their spiritual journeys seemed alienated by modernity, and suckers for whatever snake oil came peddled by people who seemed genuine enough.

Twenty years later, it is time again. Donald Trump, a cross between P.T. Barnum and Minnesota Fats, is leading the Republican field for president because he seems genuine. Among Democrats, Joe Biden is the genuine non-candidate:

To be genuine would be a great strength at a time when Hillary Clinton seems all the more contrived for trying to be spontaneous and people are responding to Donald Trump no matter what he says simply because he seems to be saying what he really thinks at that moment.

In the past, the knock on Biden has been that he utters whatever pops into his brain. Trump has made this into a big positive and that could make it the same for Biden.

True, but not particularly comforting. A few years ago, I ran a series at Scrutiny Hooligans called Unmaking the American Century. I might have to re-title it. A large swath of America seems eager to roll things back further still. Past the Enlightenment. Past the Renaissance.

Welcome back, Middle Ages. They missed you.