Chris Mooney comments on the recent attempt by movement conservatives to rebut the concept of a Republican War on Science:
A new wave of conservative science punditry–epitomized by an essay by Yuval Levin in The New Atlantis entitled “Science and the Left,” which was itself recently publicized by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson in an oped in the Washington Post–demonstrably lacks such candor. Setting out to debunk the idea that there really is a “war on science” coming from the right, these writers don’t bother engaging on the facts of the case at all. They don’t attempt to show that, say, conservative anti-evolutionists are right, or that conservative global warming deniers know what they’re talking about. Instead, Levin and Gerson ignore, trivialize, and even mock the very serious argument that scientific information has been systematically mistreated under this administration and by the American political right. Here’s Gerson: “There are few things in American politics more irrationally ideological, more fanatically faith-based, than the accusation that Republicans are conducting a ‘war on science.'” As for Levin: “Beneath these grave accusations, it turns out, are some remarkably flimsy grievances, most of which seem to amount to political disputes about policy questions in which science plays a role.”
And that’s it for these authors–rather than taking apart the “war on science” argument, they simply assert with a wave of the hand that we’re all confused, that the facts of science aren’t under attack from the right, it’s just that disagreements have occurred over ethics and policies. But of course, that’s hokum. As the author of the original book making this argument–The Republican War on Science–I took pains to show that in each of my case studies, the scientific information itself was under attack. And as for the literally hundreds of scientists employed by this government who have now been shown, in successive surveys conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, to have experienced political interference in their work? Once again, these scientists trade in facts, analysis, and expertise. They know the elementary science-policy distinction as well as everyone; as government researchers they live and breathe it. They’re still outraged.
Levin and Gerson demonstrate how far over the shark the conservative movement has jumped. During the 80s and 90s, conservatives would pretend to agree on an issue and then propose some stupid ‘market-based’ solution that would have the opposite effect of what was stated (e.g., Social Security privatization). It was actually a pretty good political strategy, even if it was in the service of awful policy. But now, they’re not even trying. As David Brooks noted (italics mine):
Brooks had moved through every important conservative publication–National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard–“and now I feel estranged,” he said. “I just don’t feel it’s exciting, I don’t feel it’s true, fundamentally true.” In the eighties, when he was a young movement journalist, the attacks on regulation and the Soviet Union seemed “true.” Now most conservatives seem incapable of even acknowledging the central issues of our moment: wage stagnation, inequality, health care, global warming. They are stuck in the past, in the dogma of limited government…. “American conservatives had one defeat, in 2006, but it wasn’t a big one,” he said. “The big defeat is probably coming, and then the thinking will happen. I have not yet seen the major think tanks reorient themselves, and I don’t know if they can.” He added, “You go to Capitol Hill–Republican senators know they’re fucked. They have that sense. But they don’t know what to do. There’s a hunger for new policy ideas.”
I’m going to go out on a limb (not really) and predict that applying post-modernism to basic factual reality is not a viable long-term political strategy or organizing principle in U.S. electoral politics.