Disdain for expertise

Over the summer, David Brooks offered a compelling indictment of the far-right forces that dominate Republican politics, noting they “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

This is especially true of Newt Gingrich, who likes to think of himself as his own scholar and intellectual authority. Indeed, the disgraced former House Speaker has a bad habit of destroying important institutions that provide credible scholarship, but which interfere with his larger agenda.

We’ve seen this with Gingrich’s attack on the federal agency in charge of medical effectiveness research and the elimination of Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment in the 1990s, and last week, we saw it again when Gingrich announced his intention to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office. The Republican presidential hopeful described the non-partisan budget office as a “reactionary socialist institution” — and he wasn’t kidding.

Bruce Bartlett did a nice job today putting this in a larger context.

Mr. Gingrich’s charge is complete nonsense. The former C.B.O. director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, now a Republican policy adviser, labeled the description “ludicrous.” Most policy analysts from both sides of the aisle would say the C.B.O. is one of the very few analytical institutions left in government that one can trust implicitly.

It’s precisely its deep reservoir of respect that makes Mr. Gingrich hate the C.B.O., because it has long stood in the way of allowing Republicans to make up numbers to justify whatever they feel like doing.

Right. In much the same way Dick The Butcher wanted to kill all the lawyers in Henry VI to promote lawlessness, Gingrich wants to scrap independent budget analysts who’ll get in Republicans’ way. Washington should simply rely on the real expert — Newt Gingrich — and not on those alleged wonks sitting around with calculators.

It’s part of a long-standing pattern for Gingrich, who seems to go out of his way to target legitimate authorities who stand in his way. Reflecting on the former Speaker’s reign, Bartlett added:

…Mr. Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it. When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.

Of course, when party control in Congress changes, many of those employed by the previous majority party expect to lose their jobs. But the Democratic committee staff members that Mr. Gingrich fired in 1995 weren’t replaced by Republicans. In essence, the positions were simply abolished, permanently crippling the committee system and depriving members of Congress of competent and informed advice on issues that they are responsible for overseeing.

This anti-intellectualism, alas, is now a standard approach to expertise in Republican circles, who necessarily assume those with objective knowledge might interfere with GOP policies, and should therefore be discredited, fired, and/or ignored.

This is not a healthy attitude when it comes to quality policymaking.