A Question for Gergen and Hart: Is Opposing Creationism 'Elitist'?

Because that's what it seems they're claiming. I'll get to that in a bit. Rolling Stone invited Matt Taibbi, David Gergen, and Gary Hart to discuss political events of the day. The subject of the Tea Party came up, at which point Taibbi said:

To me, the main thing about the Tea Party is that they're just crazy. If somebody is able to bridge the gap with those voters, it seems to me they will have to be a little bit crazy too. That's part of the Tea Party's litmus test: "How far will you go?"

Gergen and Hart both, despite their supposedly being smart people, misinterpreted what Taibbi said:

Gergen: I flatly reject the idea that Tea Partiers are crazy. They had some eccentric candidates, there's no question about that. But I think they represent a broad swath of the American electorate that elites dismiss to their peril.

Hart: I agree with David. When two out of five people who voted last night say they consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party, we make a huge mistake to suggest that they are some sort of small fringe group and do not represent anybody else.

Taibbi: I'm not saying that they're small or a fringe group.

Of course, nowhere in Taibbi's claim did he say anything about the Tea Buggers size; in fact, I doubt Taibbi would really care about them were they only a handful of people. Reading comprehension FAIL. So then Taibbi attempts to explain why he thinks they're crazy:

Taibbi: I interview these people. They're not basing their positions on the facts -- they're completely uninterested in the facts. They're voting completely on what they see and hear on Fox News and afternoon talk radio, and that's enough for them.

At this point, Gergen and Hart enter into high dudgeon (An aside: is there ever low dudgeon):

Gergen: The great unwashed are uneducated, so therefore their views are really beneath serious conversation?

Taibbi: I'm not saying they're beneath serious conversation. I'm saying that these people vote without acting on the evidence.

Gergen: I find it stunning that the conversation has taken this turn. I disagree with the Tea Party on a number of issues, but it misreads who they are to dismiss them as some kind of uneducated know-nothings who have somehow seized power in the American electorate. It is elitist to its core. We would all be better off if we spent more time listening to each other rather than simply writing them off.

Hart: I agree. The point here is that the Obama administration would be at their own peril to somehow misread this as a fringe, unacceptable group of people. This is a huge portion of the electorate, and they represent a core within the Republican Party.

Gergen and Hart seem to conflate "fringe" with "unacceptable." One can be a significant fraction of the population (i.e., not fringe) and still be utterly unacceptable (or even batshit lunatic). A huge chunk of Tea Partyers believe Obama wasn't born in the U.S. They believe that Obama/Romneycare would establish 'death panels' (no need to establish them, insurance companies seem to have this covered). They are, indeed, bugshit loony (not in a clinical sense). While it might not behoove politicians to say this--although conservatives have done rather well with aggressive tactics--journalists and other commentators have the obligation to place honesty and accuracy above comity or ersatz notions of elitism.

We have a long history of widespread lunatic beliefs: belief in the inherent inferiority of African-Americans is one good example. But I can't imagine either Gergen or Hart arguing, during the fifties and sixties, that segregation wasn't, at its core, crazy or fact-free.

Which brings me to creationism. According to Gergen's and Hart's logic, those of us who oppose creationism--and the U.S. has a lot of creationists (and there's substantial overlap between them and the Tea Buggers)--are 'elitists.' Because creationists, who are just as crazy those who believe Obama is a Kenyan-born Mussleman who wants to turn all your kids gay or whatever the daffy shit o'the week is, are also equally impervious to facts and evidence.

It's not wrong to call them out on this; in fact, it's absolutely necessary, as creationism makes no sense whatsoever. There is no evidence for it. It's not elitist to point out that someone is staggeringly wrong, and when they repeatedly hold ideas that are utterly divorced from reality, colloquially using words like insane or crazy is appropriate. Their ideas and ideology should receive the legitimacy and respect they deserve, which is to say, none at all.

Intelligent Designer, I hate Compulsive Centrist Disorder.

More like this

Humans made specially by God to name and rule over the rest of the animal kingdom? Now that's elitist!

We have a long history of widespread lunatic beliefs: belief in the inherent inferiority of African-Americans is one good example. But I can't imagine either Gergen or Hart arguing, during the fifties and sixties, that segregation wasn't, at its core, crazy or fact-free.

are you sure that latter sentence might not just be a failure of your imagination?

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 17 Nov 2010 #permalink

Notice that the other two commentators never come up with a factual objection to Taibbi's claims. Indeed, the Tea Party appears to me to be an inevitable outgrowth of our innately fact-free political culture.

The tea partiers are a group for whom ignorance is a point of pride. Actually educating oneself to the facts and drawing logical conclusions is disdained by them. And they do run on pure emotion. Everything Taibbi said was factually correct. But it's also irrelevant in the world of punditry. What's important is that media talking heads acknowledge that the tea partiers have valid feelings, even if those feelings are not based on any factual information. If they don't acknowledge those feelings, then they'll be the ones accused of being "elitist". And in today's world, there is no worse curse for a pundit than being labeled "elitist".

By greatbear (not verified) on 17 Nov 2010 #permalink

The Tea Party are not crazy, small, or fringe. They're authoritarians - the sociological successor to the term "fascists". The ignoring of evidence, ethnocentrism, and overt hostility are simply traits known to be correlated.

Of course, if you want, it's quite possible to argue on whether or not such tendencies are a bad thing or not. It's just difficult to be taken seriously.

Man, I thought exactly the same thing when reading that article in Rolling Stone, Taibbi saying they vote without acting on the evidence was totally lost on the other two. I know people who are like that, I like them as friends because we avoid politics but it is true that everything they believe comes from Fox news or Limbaugh. I see them going out to their trucks at lunch to soak in Limbaughs show. Discussion is futile with them because any "fact" that is ignored by Fox or Limbaugh is automatically dismissed. It can be nerve wracking. Gergen to me comes off in the article as a condescending elitist trying to hide his own disdain for the Tea Party in the hopes of not being dismissed by them.

By Jay Stickley (not verified) on 17 Nov 2010 #permalink