Ordinarily, science blogs wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time on politics in general. After all, even if any science blogger has a thing for playing pundit, actual science should still make up most of the blog and there are few subjects that take up more bandwidth than political gossip already. But the upcoming election is getting quite a bit of traction across the science blogging world as more and more scientists and science writers see very disturbing patterns between politicians’ attitudes and the quality of scientific education in the U.S., especially when it comes to the state and local level. In an election slated to be dominated by politicians whose scientific education is either severely lacking, or who adamantly promote ridiculous anti-scientific dogmatism, there’s a very reasonable fear for the future of science in a nation which, at least publicly, used to hold is scientists and their work as the engine of its technological and military clout, and economic firepower not so long ago.
Now, anti-intellectualism reigns in the mass media and science that was once considered to be crucial for a global superpower is being dismissed by loud and proud Luddites and religious fundamentalists who lunge towards Tea Party activists, people who are generally angry about anything and everything, incorporating every possible grievance about the modern world into the tsunami of rage they’re trying to fashion into a platform for electoral contests. While according to Matt Taibbi’s much talked about op-ed on the Tea Party, those willing and ready to wrap themselves in a noxious mix of nationalism, pseudo-piety, and contempt, if not outright and broiling hatred, towards anyone in the amorphous entity they call Big Government are just narcissists, there’s more to the Tea Party mindset than that. Certainly this is a crowd that really cares about itself and would really like for you to keep the government out of the Medicare program the same government runs because they like when taxes are being spent on them, but consider having their tax money spent on someone else analogous to being robbed. But they’re also more prone to conspiracy theories, religious fundamentalism, and a general fear of change. Actually, Taibbi partially captures what terrifies them in one paragraph.
The world is changing all around the Tea Party. The country is becoming more black and Hispanic by the day. The economy is becoming more and more complex, and access to capital for ordinary individuals more and more remote, the ability to live simply and own a business without worrying about Chinese labor or the depreciating dollar vanished more or less for good. They want to pick up their ball and go home, but they can’t; thus, the difficulties and the rancor with those of us who are resigned to life on this planet.
Why did the Tea Party set sit quietly during the Bush years? Yes, political partisanship definitely played a role, but it was also the fact that until the last three years, the economy mostly appeared to be doing ok. Even when the first tremors of the Great Recession began, it looked like a temporary correction, a simple rough patch, an idea played up by the government while it constructed its first wave of bailouts and stimuli. But when the crisis really hit and we discovered that the last three decades loaded the government with unsustainable debt while eroding our economy, and that the future would be very, very different than what we were used to, the once tiny membership of the Tea Party was flooded with new members who wanted to vent their unfocused terror and rage to let everyone around them know that something’s wrong, that something’s desperately broken. And as odd as it may sound, I agree that there are a lot of very broken things around us. When the Great Recession’s shockwave engulfed Wall Street, I was writing about the cons of giving banks money in BusinessWeek as I struggled to think of any potential justification for bailouts to meet the desired debate format.
But here’s the big difference between people like myself, who think the political system we have now is in dire need of major repairs and that we’re not ready for the future, and the Tea Party. Instead of accepting that we’re long past the point of arguing against globalization and multicultural societies united around commerce more than nations and trying to find ways to adjust to this new reality, they want to slam on the breaks and reverse a huge country which still steers global affairs into their idealized, simplified past when they were kings and the world was their oyster. And in their devotion to this dream of reversal, they reject anything and everything that’s in the way of their mission as a conspiracy to stop them or a plot to subjugate them. Rather than saying that a cap and trade agreement isn’t going to help with global warming, they say that the warming itself is a hoax by greedy trillionaire scientists and Al Gore. Instead of realizing that scientists can build our future, they dismiss all scientists as pretentious, elitist know-it-alls and cling to fundamentalism. Instead of considering how we’d have to change American healthcare to save money and deal with the future, they declare that the U.S. has the hands down best healthcare system in the world and any attempt to change it is a communist scam.
Are these the kind of people we want steering the country? Do we really need denialists who instead of trying to deal with real world problems simply deny the problems exist? And should we trust them with setting future policies for the military while we’re at it, with their xenophobic streak and conviction that firepower solves any and all problems if applied enough times? In their zeal to return to the Golden Old Days and their denial of an evolving, changing world where alliances and global power structures have intertwined and grown to be a lot more complex than they once were, they can easily make us even more fragile and diminish our influence in global affairs if we let them call the shots. What’s even worse is what would happen if we let them have a run, then elect their ideological brethren because we’re now even more upset with the state of the nation, since the policies the Tea Party 2.0 will purpose will be just another misguided, fervent quest for yesteryear’s glory.