Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Worse than Benghazi

What's even worse than the Benghazi committee? The House science committee.
Last Thursday, the nation watched with a mix of amusement and horror as the House Benghazi committee spent 11 hours grilling Hillary Clinton on a bizarre farrago of issues, many of which bore only tangential connection to the Benghazi attack.

Over the past few weeks, the political narrative seems to have shifted from "Clinton in trouble" to "congressional witch hunt seeks to take down Clinton." Between McCarthy's accidental truth telling, an ex-staffer confirming the worst reports about the committee, and another House Republican conceding the obvious, it has become clear that the Benghazi committee is a thoroughly partisan political endeavor. Opinion has turned, but Republicans are trapped.

The thing is: The Benghazi committee is not even the worst committee in the House. I'd argue that the House science committee, under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith (R-TX), deserves that superlative for its open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate some of the nation's leading scientists and scientific institutions.

The science committee's modus operandi is similar to the Benghazi committee's — sweeping, catchall investigations, with no specific allegations of wrongdoing or clear rationale, searching through private documents for out-of-context bits and pieces to leak to the press, hoping to gain short-term political advantage — but it stands to do more lasting long-term damage.

In both cases, the investigations have continued long after all questions have been answered. (There were half a dozen probes into Benghazi before this one.) In both cases, the chair has drifted from inquiry to inquisition. But with Benghazi, the only threat is to the reputation of Hillary Clinton, who has the resources to defend herself. With the science committee, it is working scientists being intimidated, who often do not have the resources to defend themselves, and the threat is to the integrity of the scientific process in the US. It won't take much for scientists to get the message that research into politically contested topics is more hassle than it's worth.

The article continues with plenty of examples, then concludes with this:
The science committee, Fox News, the Daily Caller, climate deniers, CEI — at this point, it's all one partisan operation, sharing information and strategies.

Republican radicalization has already laid waste to many of the written and unwritten rules that once governed American politics. The use of congressional committees as tools of partisan intimidation is only a chapter in that grim story.

But the science committee is going after individual scientists, who rarely have the resources on hand to defend themselves from unexpected political attack. It is doing so without any rationale related to the constitutional exercise of its oversight powers — not with a false rationale, but without any stated rationale, no allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse — in service of an effort to suppress inconvenient scientific results and score partisan political points against the executive branch.

The federal government is an enormous supporter of scientific research, to the country's great and enduring benefit, though that support is now under sustained attack. If such funding comes with strings, with the threat that the wrong inquiry or results could bring down a congressional inquisition, researchers are likely to shy away from controversial subjects. The effects on the US scientific community, and on America's reputation as a leader in science, could be dire, lingering on well past the 2016 election.

As if we didn't have enough to worry about, huh? But this is what happens when you put faith over reality and politics over country.

Republicans saw - and still see - racism as an opportunity to make political gains. They saw the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression (on their watch, no less) as an opportunity to make Americans so unhappy they'd vote Republican again in despair. They saw the death of four Americans in Benghazi as an opportunity to attack the likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

They even committed treason, attempting to sabotage America's side in the negotiations with Iran, for political advantage. There seems to be absolutely nothing Republicans won't do if they think it will benefit them politically (and that includes getting them campaign funds from wealthy individuals and corporations).

How much damage will the Republican Party do to America before conservatives come to their senses? Or will they bring America down before that happens?

PS. My thanks to Jim Harris for the link.


Jim Harris said...

What I'd like to know is if Republicans will take responsibility if they are proven wrong about climate change. If we do nothing and it brings ruin to the country, shouldn't conservatives have to pay in some way for forcing the wrong choice on us?

jeff725 said...

"How much damage will the Republican Party do to America before conservatives come to their senses? Or will they bring America down before that happens?"

Unfortunatley, I would have to side with the latter. Conservatives are too obsessed with "winning the argument."

You see it all the time on cable news with what I call "the split-screen scream," talk radio, and the endless troll fights in the internet comments section. Hell or high water, conservatives will never let go of an argument until they're "right." Gotta capture that all-mighty, all-powerful "moral high ground."

WCG said...

Of course not, Jim. These days, no one takes responsibility for being wrong, and no one seems to require it from them. Certainly, the media don't.

Elderly Republicans will stick with their dogma until they die off. Eventually, other conservatives will start pulling back, but slowly. And they'll start claiming not that climate change isn't happening, but that there's nothing we can do about it (or that it would be too expensive to do anything about it, at least).

We're already seeing some of that. Soon, we'll have Republicans claiming that it's too late to do anything, without ever acknowledging that they're the reason why it's too late.

WCG said...

Keep in mind, Jeff, that a lot of people make a lot of money from those endless arguments.

Our corporate media want viewers, and fights attract people. They want an even fight, too, because that will attract both sides.

They also want - need - advertising revenue, and keeping money in politics is the best thing for their bottom line. The worst thing? Making a political party unhappy with you, so that they'll refuse to give you interviews or, even worse, remove their advertising.

If you ask tough questions, you'll lose money. If you're an actual watchdog, rather than a cheerleader, you'll lose money. If you don't stick with "he said, she said," no matter what the facts are, you'll lose money.

The mainstream media can't do their job, not without risking profits. Partisan media, like Fox 'News,' can do well, but that's a relatively small niche. You couldn't out-compete the established Fox 'News' even if you were just as partisan as they are.

That leaves us with the Internet, but the Internet tends to be hyper-partisan. I watch TYT and read TPM, because I'm a progressive Democrat.

A right-wing Republican would go elsewhere. I'm sure we each get a completely different interpretation of the news, which means that we'll both be even more certain that we're right.

I don't know what the solution is. Public radio and public TV obviously aren't the answer. You've seen the right-wing attacks on them. It's not concerns about profits holding them back, but still concerns about funding.

Obviously, changing human nature isn't the solution, either. Maybe, in fact, the best we can hope for is those endless troll fights in Internet comments sections.

Jebus, that's a depressing thought, isn't it? Even when I'm right in the middle of them, often enough. :)

PS. Speaking of Internet comments, someone directed me to a Christian YouTube channel the other day, and in the comment section, someone actually asked me, "If humans come from apes, why are there still apes?"

Heh, heh. I couldn't believe it. I was just certain they were trolling me. No one could be that dumb, surely. But no, he really was that dumb - well, that ignorant, at least.

Clearly, he'd spent his entire life in a right-wing Christian bubble. Of course, he was still certain he knew enough to disprove modern biology, even though he didn't even have a grade school level understanding of it.

But will arguments in YouTube comments convince anyone? I tend to doubt it.

jeff725 said...

I am reminded of an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It was the episode that featured Spock.

All of his life, Spock had argued with his father, Sarek. Now that his father is dead, Spock carries on those same arguments via Capt. Picard.

PICARD: "Is it that important to you that you win one last argument with your father?"

SPOCK: "No, it is not. But, in the end, the arguments were all we had left."

Mary Smith said...

I'm glad I'm older....the dark ages are coming. Repubs and Fundamentalist religious leaders know how to whip up the fear and hatred and the dumb uneducated religious right follow like lemmings. In the 21st century when someone like Kim Davis and hundreds like her and the idiots who believe the earth is 6000 years old exist...we are doomed.

WCG said...

Do not lose hope, Mary. There are several reasons for optimism, beginning with the fact that young people, by a large majority, reject the politics of the religious right. The young always defeat the elderly, eventually.

Even now, Americans, by wide margins, reject Republican policies - even those who vote Republican, themselves, often enough. Unfortunately, they don't necessarily vote on the basis of policy, and most of them can be easily scared, fooled, bribed, or angered by the right-wing political/media machine.

Remember, the Republican Party got this political power by deliberately wooing white racists (their "Southern strategy") after the Democrats made a principled stand for civil rights in the 1960s. The South had been solidly Democratic for more than a century, but by absorbing all those old Dixiecrats, the GOP became immensely powerful.

Racism worked - and not just in the South. And Republicans leaders were willing to take advantage of that for political gain. But racists tend to have a lot of other bad qualities, too. There had always been a loony fringe in the GOP, but with the influx of racist Dixiecrats, that fringe now had the power to control primary elections.

African-Americans left the party. Liberal Republicans left the party. Moderates have been kicked out. As sane Republicans leave the party, the crazy gets more and more concentrated. That's scary.

But it doesn't mean that there are more crazies than there used to be. They're just more concentrated. And billionaires seek to use them for their own financial gain (just as the GOP originally sought to use them for political power). For a number of reasons, they have far more political power than they should have. But they're not a majority.

True, angry fanatics are a tough foe. We've seen what happens in the Middle East. In America, luckily for all concerned, they just vote, but they vote reliably, in every election, and they support their candidates in other ways, too.

They actually vote in school board elections. They vote for city councils and state legislatures. So many of the rest of us can't be bothered. But, of course, it was Republican control of state legislatures that let them gerrymander election districts, thus pretty much guaranteeing control of the House of Representatives, even when they lose the popular vote.

And our system of two senators per state gives rural states far more political power than urban states, per capita. They're not shy of using the Supreme Court for partisan political advantage, either. Democrats tend to care more about preserving America's system of government.

Well, again, these are fanatics. But they're not a majority now, and they're actually losing support. That makes them even angrier, of course. And it makes them even crazier. They get even more dangerous as they shrink in numbers.

But they are shrinking. We just have to keep them from destroying America until they fade away into the lunatic fringe again.

It's not guaranteed, of course. Anything can happen. Their control of school boards could warp a generation of young people. But I see little sign of that. More likely, as the wealth inequality gets worse and worse, the rich will control our political system even more than they do now.

But the only way they can take control of America is if we let them. Every poll shows that we already have the majority on our side. Republicans are working hard to discourage voting, but they can't keep us from voting if we really want to. We can only lose by giving up.