Dear Mr. Puritan Descendant,
Thanks so much for your letter to me, a “future Republican strategist”. Actually, it is not too far-fetched to think of me as a future political strategist as I have often thought of running for office myself as a Republican (in a very blue state) and/or supporting Republican candidates for office with my time and money. So I’m always eager to hear from folks who want to help the party succeed in winning over voters to a conservative message and who might be open to our ideas but haven’t been receptive for one reason or another in the past. Helpfully, you provide those reasons — so without further ado, let’s go through your analysis, shall we?
1) You say the following about the Republicans and science:
We are really quite unimpressed with Congressional representatives such as Todd Akin and Paul Broun who actually serve on the House science committee and who believe, respectively, that rape does not cause pregnancy and that evolution and astrophysics are lies straight from Satan’s butt cheeks. These are, sadly, only two of innumerable assaults that the Republican Party has made against hard science – with nothing to say of logic in general. Please understand the unbearable tension this might create between us and your candidates.
Now, I always thought that one of the first things a good scientists wants to do is get his facts straight. So let’s start with your summary of Akin’s beliefs — you say he believes that “rape does not cause pregnancy.” Hmm, as an observant social scientist, I’d say the first thing we know about you, Mr. Puritan Man, is that you are a liar. No need to sugar-coat or use any euphamisms to describe the calumny you just used against Rep. Akin. You flat out lied. Let’s review the facts, shall we? Infamously, Akin at one point said the following in response to a question about whether or not women who are raped should be allowed to have an abortion:
Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
O.K., so Akin believes a couple of things, neither of which is “rape does not cause pregnancy.” He obviously believes that rape rarely causes pregnancy and he also believes that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down [meaning pregnancy]” from rape. As a scientific matter, is he correct? Well, there is actually conflicting research on the subject, but here is at least one paper that agrees with Rep. Akin. There is other research that disagrees, but at best we can only fault Rep. Akin for overselling his side in what is really an unsettled scientific question.
Rep. Broun is an easier case to deal with as you basically got his position correct, allowing for a bit of colorful exaggeration (“the pit of hell” is not really “Satan’s butt cheeks”, but whatever):
“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
O.K., so now that we have our facts straight, let’s get to the heart of your complaint with these two Representatives — somehow these two quotes prove that the Republicans Party has made two of “innumerable assaults…against hard science — with nothing to say of logic in general.”
Let me repeat this just so we are all clear — two Republican Representatives made infamous remarks. One of those remarks had a controversial statement about a scientific question and the other remark consisted of a theological interpretation of some widely supported scientific theories. Based on those two remarks, which you take to be some sort of “assault” on “hard science”, and taking your word on the fact that there are other “innumerable assaults” out there against “hard science” made by other Republicans, this demonstrates why Republicans create “unbearable tension” between you and your wife (as a couple) and the Republican party. Am I right?
Who did you say is assaulting logic again?
2) I’ll quote the following in its entirety related to “Climate”:
Within just the past 18 months the following events have come to our attention: a record-breaking drought that sent temperatures over 100 degrees for weeks, killing half the corn in the Midwest and half the TREES on our suburban property – AND – a hurricane that drowned not New Orleans or Tampa or North Carolina but my native state of VERMONT. As an encore, a second hurricane drowned lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island. The shouted views of decrepit mental fossil Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma that this is a fraud perpetrated on the American people by evil, conspiring climate scientists is belied by such events and is looking irresponsible to even the most skeptical.
Now, I assume that when you refer to “that this is a fraud” you are giving the good Senator from Oklahoma the benefit of the doubt and referring to his views on so-called global warming. I Googled the Senator’s remarks and while he certainly thinks the idea of global warming is a hoax, it is unclear if he thinks climate scientists are indeed “evil”. But that’s neither here nor there, because to “even the most skeptical”, one or two droughts or hurricanes or crazy weather events do not equate to a coherent theory of global warming. And get this, even if I were to accept at face value the best science we have today on global warming, I’d still be opposed to having the government do anything beyond some basic research on how we might tackle the problem in the far future, because the cost/benefit analysis favors little action. For a “job creator and small businessman”, you don’t know much about economics, do you?
3) You then say the following about Republicans and health care:
“Your party’s insistence on declaring the private U.S. healthcare system “the best in the world” fails nearly every factual measure available to any curious mind. We watch our country piss away 60% more expenditures than the next most expensive system (Switzerland) for health outcomes that rival former Soviet bloc nations. On a personal scale, my wife watches poor WORKING people show up in emergency rooms with fourth-stage cancer because they were unable to afford primary care visits. I have watched countless small businesses unable to attract talented workers because of the outrageous and climbing cost of private insurance. And I watch European and Asian businesses outpace American companies because they can attract that talent without asking people to risk bankruptcy and death. That you think this state of affairs is somehow preferable to “Obamacare,” which you compared ludicrously to Trotskyite Russian communism, is a sign of deficient minds unfit to guide health policy in America.”
Apparently, you’ve now shifted from lying about real Republicans to making stuff up about Republicans that don’t exist. Most conservative Republicans who I’m familiar with and have an interest in health care want to reform our current system of health care delivery, which as you know even before Obamacare was not a simple free-market in goods and services like the market for business consulting or books about “megatrends”. I could link you to all sorts of conservative policy websites and individual Republican members of the House and Senate who have proposed bills to reform our health care system. What most of these ideas share, however, is the desire to put more power in consumers hands and let the price mechanism and the power of free markets bring down costs and drive innovation. The fact that we spend more than other countries on health care is probably an indication that we invest more in high tech, innovative and unique treatments for those who are sick, including preemies — I wouldn’t call all that expensive care we lavish on preemies “pissing away” health care dollars. And why don’t we get better “health outcomes”? Again, as I’m sure you are aware, lots of factors go into making up a country’s health statistics that have nothing to do with our health care system (e.g. more crime and shootings in the U.S. generally means less healthy people). I mean, when I read your ‘thoughts’ on health care, I wondered where such ill-informed and confused ideas come from…maybe the Devil’s hind quarters?
4) You next take the time to criticize the Republicans for doing a bad job of running the Iraq War. Fair enough, although no credit to Bush for the surge and subsequent stabilization of a really bad situation in Iraq? And how about the Democrats — how has President Obama done since taking over? You think he’s done a bang-up job of getting us out of Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, waging a limited war in Libya, and executing drone strikes around the world? I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this topic, but I can certainly appreciate your overall frustration with Republican foreign policy, which I myself think became too messianic in its goals under Bush 43 while at the same time too restrained in its tactics. Not a good combination.
5) On deficits and the debt, I think you offer excellent advice:
“The only problem with your claim [that Republicans will cut spending and reduce the deficit] is that Republican governments throughout my entire 38 year life (Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43) have failed to cut spending and deficit and debt EVEN ONCE. I hope you understand that your credibility suffers every time you promise one thing for three decades and do the EXACT OPPOSITE.”
Now, as you know, we have really only had a “Republican government” for six years under Bush 43 — the rest of the time we have had divided government, with the Republicans controlling the Presidency and the Democrats controlling one or both chambers of Congress. Likewise with Democratic President Clinton, although he had two years of total control. You also realize that as bad as Bush 43 was, President Obama and the Democratic Congress (and to a lesser extent, the divided Congress of the past two years) have been much, much worse. Indeed, I hope Republicans take your advice and wind up nominating a strong Governor in 2016 who has a track record (better than Romney’s) of cutting spending in his or her State and laying out a plan to the American people to tackle our insane levels of debt. I’d say that I’m sure you agree, but earlier it seems like you support Obamacare, which we know will only contribute to the deficit and debt problem, so who knows what you think.
6) On the subjct of gay marriage, you seem to once again conjure up an imaginary Republican who says something that you imagine such a person might say, all while making a good point about the destructive power of divorce in American life. I certainly agree that Republicans should think seriously about how we make divorce more difficult/less desirable as an option for too many couples. However, I’m not sure what the heck you mean by this:
The Republican perseveration on homosexuals as any sort of threat consigns them to history’s trough of intellectual pig dung.
The Republican party I’m familiar with wants to keep the traditional understanding and definition of marriage intact — under law and in our common discourse. We believe marriage “is a union that is necessarily and by its very nature heterosexual”, and we want our laws to reflect this truth. Nothing more and nothing less.
The rest of your letter takes issue with the tone of some Republican leaders — while I wouldn’t characterize their comments as “mean”, I certainly agree with you that at times our tone needs to change and you’ll be glad to know one of my favorite Republican Governors also agrees.
So we are at an impass. I don’t see the need, based on your “policy positions” (did you even present policies or just object to Republican ideas — you think Obamacare is a good solution to controlling costs and helping people pay for healthcare? You think we should implement some sort of carbon tax to deal with global warming? What exactly are your “policy positions”, that you supposedly laid out in your letter to me?) to change my conservative ideals or policy prescriptions to this country’s problems.
The interesting question is whether or not conservative Republicans can be successful if we do a better job of selling our policies (which for the most part don’t need to change)? Who knows, but I do know that the country cannot keep enacting liberal policies without slower growth, more unemployment, lower family incomes, more restrictions on our liberties, etc., etc. In short, on our current path, we will fail to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Thanks anyway for trying.
P.S. I’m a big fan of Puritan culture and early American literature — John Winthrop is the bomb!