Childish politics

One of the really distressing things about the political discourse in this country is how many political decisions seem to be based on insubstantial things like the vanity and ego and sheer childishness of people who really should know better. The desire to score cheap political points, to not want to give what the other side can claim as a victory even if the measure is a good one has become so obvious, especially in the Republican party, that it should be embarrassing, if as a nation we had not lost our sense of shame.

During the health care debate, for example, it seemed like all it took for the despicable Joe Lieberman to oppose any measure (such as single payer, the public option, extending eligibility for Medicare) was for any progressive group to express support for it. This may also lie behind the fact that the US still has not adopted the metric system or why there is irrational denial to even consider global warming as a potential threat. Opposition in some quarters seems to be at least partly based on the fact that these measures are popular in other countries.

As another example, look at the to-be Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor’s statement on a suggestion to balance the budget.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), who is likely to become House majority leader in January, said Tuesday that many lawmakers wouldn’t support VAT-type tax because its ties to Europe might make it politically poisonous in Washington. [My italics]

“I don’t think any of us want us to go the direction of the social welfare states around the world,” Mr. Cantor said at the CEO Council.

There are good and bad things about the VAT (Value-Added Tax) but the fact that it is used in some European countries should be totally irrelevant to the discussion except as a source of data on how well it works.

I am not saying that there are no substantive reasons for the opposition but one gets the palpable sense that if Europe does it or if ‘the left’ supports something, that is enough for Republicans to view it with deep suspicion and seek reasons to oppose it.

Republican party leader Mitch McConnell actually said that one of the reasons he opposed the new START treaty (which was ratified yesterday by the Senate on a 71-26 vote) is because he did not want to give a victory to ‘the left’. I do not have an informed opinion on the START treaty since I have only a little idea of what it contains, but the idea that a major political leader would oppose something of international significance because it might provide a boost to his political opponents is highly disturbing.

But this is what passes for political thinking among the leaders of the Republican party. Not the merits of issue itself but where it comes from and who is supporting it.

I suspect that the current Republican opposition to things like high-speed rail is also based on similar feelings. Creating a massive network of high-speed rail lines that span the country would be a tremendous boost to the economy, creating jobs and stimulating industry. But because other countries such as China and in Europe have taken the lead in this area, following in their footsteps would somehow imply that the US is not #1.

This has reached such absurd levels that some are considering repealing Bush-era legislation that will phase out incandescent light bulbs. They presumably think that replacing them with compact fluorescent bulbs is some kind of evil European socialist plot that seeks to deny them their god-given right to have their choice of light bulbs

At least we should be grateful that this kind of childishness on a large scale is a fairly recent phenomenon. If it had happened in the 19th century, we would still be riding in horse-drawn carriages since these same people would have opposed the introduction of the steam engine because it was invented and developed in Europe.

As the country falls further behind in science and technology, as its infrastructure crumbles and its health system falls apart, these people are not going to look for good ideas wherever they originate because they will be too busy chanting “USA! USA! Were #1!”

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