Jacob Weisberg tackles one of my favorite subjects in his latest column, asking, “Are Republicans losing their grip on reality?” As Weisberg sees it, “the current state of the national Republican Party” is burdened by a disturbing dynamic: “magical thinking trumps rationality.”
Some of this, he suggests, is the result of pandering. For example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) refuses to say whether he accept the foundations of modern biology, probably because he knows his anti-science party wouldn’t like it if he said he acknowledged the reality of evolutionary biology.
…Christie is also someone who might want to run for president someday, or be selected as someone’s running mate. For those purposes, he must constantly ask himself the question: Am I about to say something to which a white, evangelical, socially conservative, gun-owning, Obama-despising, pro-Tea Party, GOP primary voter in rural South Carolina might object? By this standard, simple acceptance of the theory of evolution becomes a risky stance. To lie or to duck? Christie chose the option of ducking while signaling his annoyance at being put in this ridiculous predicament.
Moments like this point to a growing asymmetry in our politics. One party, the Democrats, suffers from the usual range of institutional blind spots, historical foibles, and constituency-driven evasions. The other, the Republicans, has moved to a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems (climate change, the need to pay the costs of running the government) can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact (Obama might just be Kenyan-born or a Muslim), expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot.
That’s true, but in some ways, it’s largely a secondary problem. In Christie’s case, the issue here isn’t whether the governor is actually uncomfortable with reality — few seriously believe Christie rejects evolution — but rather his discomfort with his party’s nuttiness. This is, in a way, vaguely reassuring — given a choice between a governor who believes nonsense and a governor reluctant to admit he doesn’t believe nonsense, the latter is preferable to the former.
But the larger problem is more expansive, and obviously goes well beyond Christie offending GOP activists with support for biology. Rather, the more pressing issue is the nuttiness that’s sincere and has nothing to do with pandering to the ignorant.
It includes economic, fiscal, and monetary policy. It obviously includes climate science. The more one considers a host of other issues — remember the bizarre GOP claims during the health care debate? — the more it reinforces Weisberg’s observation.
Even after the release of Obama’s birth certificate … nearly one-quarter of Republicans still refuse to believe that the president was born in the United States. Conspiracy thinking is flourishing on the right like no time since the McCarthy era. The GOP rank and file is in desperate need of a cold shower, a slap in the face, a wake-up call. But instead of telling the base to get a grip on reality, the party’s leaders are chasing after the delusional mob.
I remember about two years ago, when it seemed GOP politics had passed the point of no return, I heard from some credible, old-school Republicans who suggested it was a phase. This too shall pass, they said. The combination of the economic crisis, the ’06 and ’08 cycles, and the right-wing rejection of President Obama’s legitimacy (and race) created a toxic cocktail, but the party’s sanity would return eventually.
I’d love to believe that’s true, but under the circumstances, I don’t see sensibility anywhere on the Republican horizon.