Thursday, December 8, 2011

Buying Bad Ideas

There are a lot of expressions for bad ideas, like shooting one’s self in the foot. A bad idea is simply one that does not work. The problem is that from time to time, both as ourselves and as a people, we do not recognize a bad idea when we encounter it. The danger comes when for whatever reason -- ignorance, stubbornness or hubris – we stick with a bad idea to our detriment. Unfortunately, bad ideas tend to compound themselves. We have been suffering from that effect.

Consider the candidacy of the former governor of Alaska for Vice President. At the outset it is with some reluctance that I acknowledge a grudging gratitude to Sarah Palin. Until she appeared on television as if a human bridge to nowhere, nothing compelled me to engage in a political debate that I considered both cyclical and one-sided. The cyclical part was the fact that the country was due to change political leadership after an eight year Republican run, which is something that the country does. The one-sided part was the fact that the Democratic Party had emerged from a climactic contest between two compelling and competent Senate candidates, one of whom destined to become a historic first as President of the United States.

An oblivious Palin seemed to take herself seriously, saying stupid things and celebrating such stupidity. It offended me. I minded and began saying so. I minded that Palin did not speak any American language I would expect to hear from a competent executive. It was not alright, folksy or cute. But I underestimated the “moose-hunting rube,” as columnist Charles Krauthammer referred to her in the National Review.

Palin reminded me of one of the most vapid students in my high school graduating class who was the vice president of student body and vice president of at least a half-a-dozen high school clubs. The girl had a mid-double-digit IQ and passable looks. She would have been rather doltish except that she knew how to glom. She would stick to and campaign for the more popular students, thereby elevating her status in the high school social pool. She was a person who was never troubled by an original thought, just like Sarah Palin. The difference is that the high school girl understood the limitations that make bliss of ignorance. Palin did not.

Palin wowed conservatives like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who told the New York Observer that Palin was “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” Soon after, Palin brought self-aggrandizement to a new level as she energized the baseness of the Republican base – people who use racial epithets in private when they explain that they just don’t like blacks. She appealed to people of limited educational backgrounds as she championed anti-intellectualism with a wink and a nod. She became a darling of Fox News, the moral equivalent of a grocery store tabloid for people who do not read and who feel threatened by people who do.

People at Republican rallies began to shell out big bucks to hear her cheerlead and Palin noticed.

The Republican Party’s self-inflicted loss in 2008 is due as much to its selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President as the country’s guts being full of the Bush Presidency. A 2008 New York Times editorial said of her choice for VP, “It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.” It was a bad idea. But having proved to be such a draw, the crowd pleasing Palin glommed on to the burgeoning Tea Party – another bad idea – and became an influential force.

With Palin on the payroll, Fox News aggressively promoted negativity and hostility, specifically towards the newly elected president. The Tea Party appeared to resuscitate the out-of-power GOP in the mid-term elections. Republicans believed it was important to take control of congress’ lower chamber more so than Democrats and they did, kind of. Reciting an edited version of the US Constitution, the GOP majority of the 112th Congress had no idea that it had been infected by such a polarizing group. Its anti-government/anti-tax/anti-Obama negativity proved to sell to an electorate suffering from a deep, GOP induced repression.

However, the new Speaker of the House soon discovered that he only controlled a majority of the new Republican plurality. The Tea Party faction held it hostage. Compromise was futile. Government shutdowns and default threats became normal operating procedures.

As a result this bad idea, Gallup reported in September, “Majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (92%) are dissatisfied with the nation's governance.” At present, “Congressional job approval remains at 13% in November, identical to October and tying the all-time Gallup low on this measure. The 2011 average is on track to be the lowest annual rating of Congress in Gallup's history.” What an accomplishment that is.

We are being bullied by the rhetoric of Tea Party acolytes in the Republican Party into thinking that the United States is not a prosperous country, despite evidence to the contrary. We are being coerced into thinking that taxation is too high, even though it is at its lowest point in 60 years. We are being fed a line that our economic policy needs to be austere and rife with cuts. Such contentious conjectures are bad ideas.

There are better ones. For example, here is what President Lyndon Johnson said in his January 28, 1965 message to Congress.

"The task of economic policy is to create a prosperous America. The unfinished task of prosperous Americans is to build a Great Society. Our accomplishments have been many; these tasks remain unfinished:

- to achieve full employment without inflation;

- to restore external equilibrium and defend the dollar;

- to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of our private and public economies;

- to widen the benefits of prosperity;

- to improve the quality of American life."

Palin and her gibberish have been replaced by other people every bit as unqualified for high public office as she who similarly say stupid things. Negativity and attack ads directed at the incumbent president remains the top Republican theme. Fox News is a beneficiary of the advertising revenue but the country is not. I am not convinced that the electorate will buy into more such negativity as a winning proposition as it did in 2010. It isn’t a winner. In its celebrated ignorance, it asks us to buy some more of a bad idea.

Originally published as Buying Bad Ideas on Blogcritics.

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