Monday, May 07, 2007

The Politics of Amnesia

I watched roughly twenty-five minutes of the Republican presidential candidates debate before I walked away in disbelief. I cannot fathom their world. With an exception now and then, they all struck me as disconnected from reality.

Do I exaggerate? Later in the evening, when my blood pressure returned to normal, I looked around on the internet for more details about the event. Consider the picture on the left.

The men with their hands raised are Senator Sam Brownback, Representative Tom Tancredo, and former governor Mike Huckabee. The assembled candidates had been asked who among them did not believe in evolution.

Long ago, when humans didn’t know about the theory of evolution, we still bred dogs to produce desirable traits. How did we do it? Now we live in an age when scientists are manipulating D.N.A., the very stuff of evolution. Yet three of the Republican contenders do not believe in evolution. Isn’t that rather like owning a computer and disputing the rules of addition? If they don’t believe in evolution, what do they think stem cell research is all about?

It wasn’t a real debate, of course; the candidates could not engage one another or elaborate on complex matters. I didn’t take notes, and many of the men on that stage were unfamiliar to me. Nevertheless, I recognized that they expressed broad agreement on key positions of the current Republican party. That’s what frightened me. I saw ten men afflicted with ideologically induced Alzheimer’s disease running for the Oval Office.

For instance, the debate was held in the President Ronald Reagan Library; and each candidate took an opportunity to remark upon, or lay claim to, the Reagan legacy. There was talk of Reagan’s optimism, his vision of America as a shining city on a hill. There was talk of family values and tax cuts.

A wittier wag than I once observed that we have to record history or we won’t know what we’re repeating! But that doesn’t mean everyone reads history. Republicans remember Reagan’s tax cuts and forget what followed. The man behind the numbers was David Stockman, who later wrote a book about the optimistic assumptions used to make the budget look good. The result was a $2 trillion gap between the “Rosy Scenario” and actual economic performance. George Bush, Sr. said, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” Still, when the budget went south, he supported more federal revenues. And his party attacked him! But Republicans today don’t recall that. They only recall how Reagan cut taxes.

Reagan made a deal with the Axis of Evil: the Iran-Israel-contra-cocaine operation. The U.S. raised a mercenary army to attack Nicaragua, a country that has never attacked us. Reagan described the mercenaries as “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” The army was funded in part by drug money from protected cocaine traffic in the U.S. But today’s Republicans don’t recollect that, either. All they remember is that Reagan cut taxes.

I heard China mentioned in the debate at least twice — once as a future threat and once as a nation using unfair trade practices. Has anybody told Wal-Mart? More to the point, the U.S. is currently borrowing roughly $50 billion per month, the bulk of it from Japan and China. Has anybody warned George Bush, Jr. that we have become dependent upon a trading partner that is our enemy?

We’re borrowing this money, of course, because we cut taxes and started the most expensive war in our history. If China wasn’t loaning us money, we wouldn’t be in Iraq today. I have noted in the past the neo-con goal of controlling China’s access to oil. Is China a threat because they might attack us, or is China a “threat” because shortsighted leaders in the U.S. are selling us off at a furious clip?

I heard talk in the debate of recent Republican successes — the proscription drug plan was cited as an example. I was stunned. That law was written by lobbyists who low-balled the costs and prevented the government from negotiating prices. It was legalized larceny, yet it was touted as a triumph of Republican leadership.

Naturally, candidates tried to distance themselves from the administration, but that doesn’t mean they embraced reality. South still isn’t up and right still isn’t sideways. We can’t afford another President spreading the Disney theory of history. We need someone better than that.


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