August 23, 2012, 9:45 pm
The Crackpot Caucus
By TIMOTHY EGAN
The tutorial in 8th grade biology that Republicans got after one of their members of Congress went public with something from the wackosphere was instructive, and not just because it offered female anatomy lessons to those who get their science from the Bible.
Take a look around key committees of the House and you'll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri's Representative Todd Akin's take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who's been raped.
On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.
Let's take a quick tour of the crazies in the House. Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body.
We're currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept. But to Republicans in Congress, it's all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change, Representative John Shimkus of Illinois is - you guessed it - a climate-change denier.
At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. "The earth will end only when God declares it to be over," he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length. It's worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.
On the same committee is an oil-company tool and 27-year veteran of Congress, Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas. You may remember Barton as the politician who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill.
Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, "wind is God's way of balancing heat." Clean energy, he said, "would slow the winds down" and thus could make it hotter. You never know.
"You can't regulate God!" Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.
The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with evolution, but the same cannot be said of House Republicans. Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier, apparently because he can't see the indent where his ancestors' monkey tail used to be. "Where's the missing link?" he said in 2011. "I just want to know what it is." He serves on a committee that oversees education.
In his party, Kingston is in the mainstream. A Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in the present form just within the last 10,000 years - a wealth of anthropological evidence to the contrary.
Another Georgia congressman, Paul Broun, introduced the so-called personhood legislation in the House - backed by Akin and Representative Paul Ryan - that would have given a fertilized egg the same constitutional protections as a fully developed human being.
Broun is on the same science, space and technology committee that Akin is. Yes, science is part of their purview.
Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing.
Remember the crazy statement that helped to kill the presidential aspirations of Michele Bachmann? A vaccine, designed to prevent a virus linked to cervical cancer, could cause mental retardation, she proclaimed. Bachmann knew this, she insisted, because some random lady told her so at a campaign event. Fearful of the genuine damage Bachmann's assertion could do to public health, the American Academy of Pediatrics promptly rushed out a notice, saying, "there is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement."
Nor is there is reputable scientific validity to those who deny that the globe's climate is changing for the worst. But Bachmann calls that authoritative consensus a hoax, and faces no censure from her party.
It's encouraging that Republican heavyweights have since told Akin that uttering scientific nonsense about sex and rape is not good for the party's image. But where are these fact-enforcers on the other idiocies professed by elected representatives of their party?
Akin, if he stays in the race, may still win the Senate seat in Missouri. Bachmann, who makes things up on a regular basis, is a leader of the Tea Party caucus in Congress and, in an unintended joke, a member of the Committee on Intelligence. None of these folks are without power; they govern, and have significant followings.
A handful of Republicans have tried to fight the know-nothings. "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming," said Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, during his ill-fated run for his party's presidential nomination. "Call me crazy."
And in an on-air plea for sanity, Joe Scarborough, the former G.O.P. congressman and MSNBC host, said, "I'm just tired of the Republican Party being the stupid party." I feel for him. But don't expect the reality chorus to grow. For if intelligence were contagious, his party would be giving out vaccines for it.
· Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company
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