More on the GOP, Abstinence…and Iraq.

Good to see that the canary-in-a-coal-mine significance of the GOP support for abstinence education is getting a bit more attention these days.Tim F. over at the well-trafficked Balloon-Juice blog adds another level (and a lot more audience) to the argument I was trying to make in this post. (Whatever else may be said about the two posts — mine has much sexier illustration.)

I said that Huckabee’s embrace of abstinence was both evidence of the triumph of unexamined assumptions (faith — in this case in the obvious utility of telling kids not to have sex, no matter what the data say) and of a nasty kind of corruption, in that abstinence programs may not help teenagers, but they sure enrich a certain crowd of GOP religion hucksters.

Tim F. takes this further by pointing out that where the religiously based authoritarian wing of the GOP and the Take-Care-Of-Our-Own faction come together is over precisely this kind of corruption, and he uses the disastrous history of the construction of the US Embassy-fortress in Baghdad to illustrate the point. Short form: why didn’t anyone in the GOP who had a chance to oversee this project and the entire Iraq reconstruction effort do anything remotely like a good job? Because too many well connected folk were getting rich on the deal. Read the whole thing; it’s a good piece.

And now take the issue one step further:There is one Republican US Senator left with a real chance of winning the nomination and the Presidency: John McCain.Traditionally, the US Senate has been a backstop for oversight when the Federal departments themselves cannot police themselves, (and as Josh Marshall and his crew over at TPM have documented with the fate of Bush Administration Inspectors General, we are surely in such a time now). In the early 1940s, a fairly obscure and previously undistinguished Senator from Missouri made his reputation by running just such an oversight operation to ensure that the US government was getting what it paid for in World War II contracting. That good, and bi-partisan work prompted Roosevelt to choose Senator Harry S. Truman as his third and last VP…and we know how that worked out.

This time round, obviously, no Trumans showed up. The GOP controlled both houses of Congress from 2003-2006. That was exactly the time when we need an independent check on US rebuilding efforts, But nothing happened. McCain himself was AWOL on anything that might imply criticism of Bush and of the Iraqi adventure. Billions of our money, and who knows how many lives, have been wasted as a result.

Is that all McCain’s fault?

Of course not. It was the Bush administration’s direct responsbility to get things done right. McCain and his colleagues in the GOP caucus were at one remove: they failed their duty to the country by refusing to perform even the most minimal oversight on the administration’s management of Iraq. But that’s still a crucial duty, and it is one that the GOP-led Congress clearly failed to perform. I single out McCain for his roles as both a candidate and the leading senatorial supporter of the Iraq fiasco.

(It’s true that the Democrats in the last year haven’t made a huge amount of headway — but even here, their attempts have been blocked by White House refusal to accept the Congress’s oversight authority, a stonewall built with the almost unanimous aid of the GOP minority — again, including John McCain.)So: when weighing his fitness for the presidency, do not forget McCain’s indirect complicity in the corruption of the vital US effort to rebuild Iraq.

And now, to bring this back to the significance of science in public life: Science matters not just for its particular results, but for the habits of mind it trains. There are lots of differences in the detailed methods of the various scientific disciplines — but one common thread is what is often called materialism, but is really as much empiricism as anything else. That is: the ultimate value of an idea is determined by the outcome of its test against observable reality. Facts matter, in other words, and a claim of principle, even a beautiful and long-held one, cannot survive material contradiction.

That deliberate failure to face facts makes the connection that I, and apparently Balloon-Juice’s Tim both see between the willed blindness displayed in people like Mike Huckabee’s embrace of anti-science, from abstinence education to the evolution follies and all the rest — and the equally willed blindness of people like John McCain, who refused to see any wrongdoing in what they believed was a noble and necessary crusade in Iraq.

Image: Pieter Breugel the Elder, “The Parable of the Blind,” 1568.  The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikipedia Commons.

Explore posts in the same categories: abstinence, Huckabee, McCain, Politics, War, Who needs science?

4 Comments on “More on the GOP, Abstinence…and Iraq.”


  1. […] in response to my post below, author and MIT professor Thomas Levenson has two well-written posts on the central failure of Republican […]

  2. randall Says:

    I am a political ink blot. I understand nothing about it and am good for nothing when it comes to discussing it. I dig your blog but am thoroughly stupefied, nullified- by it. My feet are heavy and my head hurts, but I keep trying to get it.

  3. sammylc Says:

    I like this, it is unbiased and informative, I had no idea McCain had done good Conservative work back in the day.


  4. “Good” conservative work? Yep, that about sums up the conservative movement. Constitution? Who cares? Well, a few liberals, but conservatives don’t care about them at all.


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