Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Run, Forrest, Run

I read this week in The Week that Pinellas County, Florida has decided to stop adding fluoride to drinking water.  This decision has been made despite protests by dentists who point out that fluoridation has dramatically lowered national tooth decay rates.  Tea Party activists said fluoridation was part of a plot by “the world government to keep people stupid.”

If these activists had been raised on Pinellas County tap water, then I would tend to agree with them. 
Lord knows taking the opinion of dentists, who attend and graduate from college, med school and dental school, who spend their lives inside people’s mouths, over the opinions of people with tea bags hanging from the brims of their hats at public events, would be silly.  The science of dentistry is unsettled, and therefore we should reject any of its teachings.  Next, we’ll be told that 20% of dentists do not recommend sugarless Trident for their patients that chew gum.  Is there anything worth believing anymore? 
Medical science is being replaced by Internet rumors as the sole source of facts and knowledge, and our political class has gone all in.  Do I exaggerate?
Michelle Bachmann, darling of the Tea Party, claimed after one of the GOP/Tea Party debates that the HPV vaccination causes mental retardation in girls, because someone told her so after the debate.  She repeated the claim in 3 interviews, so this wasn’t an unfortunate slip of the tongue after a long day on the trail.  Bachmann’s anti-vaccine nonsense was confronted, not just by the Left looking for a cheap punch line, but by some liberal icons, such as Rush Limbaugh, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, Bachmann’s former campaign manager, and the American Association of Pediatrics.

Bachmann heard the HPV claim somewhere, and it was therefore factual.  I am certain the woman who educated the candidate was sincere in her belief.  Apparently, sincerity is not enough, since this claim has been totally debunked, and would be a source of major embarrassment to Michelle Bachmann, if she and her followers stopped for one second to consider how dumb this is.

Nikki Haley, Republican governor of South Carolina, recently backed off the claim that 50% of applicants at a local nuclear facility had failed a drug test after admitting that she was told this by a random worker at the nuclear plant. 
"I've never felt like I had to back up what people tell me (emphasis added). You assume that you're given good information," Haley told Jim Davenport of the Associated Press.  "And now I'm learning through you guys that I have to be careful before I say something."  Her intellectual curiosity needs some refinement.

The erroneous “factoid”, which she used as a basis to develop a state policy to drug test the unemployed before granting benefits, was never checked for accuracy.  Gov. Haley, to her credit, apologized for accepting this worker’s statement as factually true, although to her shame, this did not cause her to change her policy position.  The silly made up stuff that supports her position does not require vetting, because it sounds true.  Therefore, it is true.  To a hammer, everything is a nail. (FACT: Less than 1% of the applicants failed the pre-employment drug screen over a period of years.)

Herman Cain, the latest Tea Party darling, boasts that he will not sign any law that is more than 3 pages long.  For a country that revels in excess shopping, eating and watching TV, we shouldn’t be surprised that reading isn’t on our list of things we need more of.  Reading too much is bad for America, and wordy legislation is like a mandate to read.  His 9-9-9 Plan, like an effective pizza promotion, has the virtue of being easy to remember; unlike an effective pizza promotion, however, it will not drive sales of his brand to the masses. 
He celebrates his lack of interest in learning about the world as a qualification for the office of President.  Cain went so far as to promote his ignorance of foreign affairs by saying, “And when they (the media) ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I'm going to say, you know, I don't know. Do you know?”    I am certain that world leaders will be anxious to listen to his global economic recommendations over a thin crust meat lovers’ pie at his first state dinner.  Someone should mention to Cain that we live in a global economy with global players.  Maybe that factoid was slated for page 4 of his debate briefing book.

Rick Perry, the fast rising and even faster fading candidate from Texas, gets some of his biggest cheers when he revels in his own academic ineptitude. 
During a speech last week at Liberty University, Perry made the joke about what a lousy student he was.   Perry deadpanned that at his small high school, “I graduated in the top 10 of my graduating class — of 13.” The crowd laughed and applauded.  Poor grades in school are badge of honor among the GOP faithful.  Healthy skepticism of intellectuals I understand; full embrace of ignorance I do not.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative writer at the Washington Post, said Perry’s speech “was, at least in part, a celebration of ignorance.” She added, “Yes, he was trying to be self-deprecating, but it’s disturbing to see that he thinks being a rotten student and a know-nothing gives one street cred in the GOP.” (from The Washington Monthly)

In just the last month, they cheered executions, booed gay soldiers, applauded the death of the uninsured, and every GOP candidate is bending over backwards to curry their favor.  The Tea Party was once branded as an independent movement with positions that sometimes conflicted with GOP orthodoxy.  Not anymore.  The national debates are advertised as the Republican/Tea Party Debates.  The groups are one in the same without pretense, and that’s too bad.  Where are the thinkers in the GOP?  Why isn’t it cool to be smart?

Forrest Gump once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  And now Joe the Plumber, the unlicensed ex-plumber and former surrogate for John McCain, is running for Congress.  Can you guess his party affiliation?  Run, Joe, Run.  We look forward to your unique contributions to the national discourse, and the premiere of your new reality TV show when the race is over.

We get the government we deserve, and if the Tea Partiers of Pinellas County have their way, the teeth we deserve, too.  Chew on that, while you still can. 

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