Sarah Palin and the rejection of scientific method
The most recent episode in the long-running Punch and Judy show between Sarah Palin and Karl Rove is shedding light on the schism between old-school Republicans and the Tea Party insurgents who are steadily pushing them aside. It appears it is not merely Palin’s personal antipathy to Rove that drives her spleen but a contempt for the dark arts he employs.
It is no surprise, perhaps, that the anti-intellectualism that underpins many of the Tea Party’s most absurd and offensive stances – the insistence that evidence of global warming is invented; the notion that women who are raped do not conceive; the belief that Darwin’s theory of evolution is contradicted by the Bible; the failure to understand that all economics is Keynesian; and so on – also informs Palin’s assault on the science practiced by Rove and every other established political strategist around the world.
In a zinger directed at Rove, Palin blamed Mitt Romney’s defeat on the “top-down political process” directed by a “permanent political class” in “permanent political mode” in Washington that is “busy worrying about their own political future.” “Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune-out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and throw out the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe, we don’t need professionals to tell us,” she declared.
This is more than a cheap snipe at Rove, whom Palin does not finger by name but alludes to as “The Architect,” the nickname given him by George W. Bush, though neither, it seems, had in mind the unbending, egomaniacal hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, who would rather plant a bomb in a building than let a client make design suggestions. It is a full frontal assault on cogent thought.
Palin, who announced to CPAC of all audiences that it is “time we all stopped preaching to the choir,” should give more credit to a fellow conservative who contributed so much to ensuring that Bush – who has become a bugaboo whose name is barely mentioned during this bloody GOP postmortem – won two terms. She may learn something. In a climate where no postwar Republican president, not even the conservative saint Ronald Reagan, could survive a GOP presidential primary today, the party is plainly undergoing a fundamental transformation that, if the heat of the argument raging is anything to go by, has yet to reach its nadir.
There is a legitimate and long-running academic argument about whether the social sciences are as rigorous as the natural sciences when it comes to evidence and method, an abstruse debate that broke through the surface when senior Republicans last fall dismissed well-conducted, scientifically based polls indicating that President Barack Obama was on his way to re-election. Rove was among those who interpreted results in a different way and on election night embarrassed himself by disagreeing with the Fox News psephologists who insisted the early results and exit polling clearly showed that Romney was in for a thrashing. Rove lost his bloviating gig on Fox for his poor call that night, but many Republicans, including in part the Romneys, remain in denial, refusing to believe Obama won fairly and blaming political scientists for that crime of crimes, being right all along.
Palin’s takeaway from the November debacle is that all political science is junk and that opinion polling, listening to focus groups and all attempts to understand the voters through sociological method are part of a deceitful racket plied by greedy political insiders like Rove, who make themselves fat on the funds raised cent by cent by the party’s hardworking grass roots. Or, as she put it, “these experts who keep losing elections and keep getting rehired and getting millions” should stand for office themselves and either “buck up or stay in the truck.”
Rove was quick to point out, “I don’t think I’m a particularly good candidate. Sort of a balding, fat guy,” before slipping the stiletto between her ribs by suggesting that if he were elected to office, he would stick at the job rather than, as Palin did with the Alaska governorship, resign halfway through the electoral term. (Rove had the good grace not to mention that those “getting millions” included Palin herself, who hauled in $10 million in 2009-10.)
In another part of her diatribe, Palin called for “ending the poisonous practice of treating Americans of different social, ethnic, religious groups as different electorates to be pandered to with different promises. … [T]here are no Hispanic issues or African American issues or women’s issues. There are only American issues.” The lift from Obama’s 2004 convention speech ‑ “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America,” ‑ is a noble sentiment of intent, but as a critique of political science or as a prescription for regaining votes lost to the Democrats it is detached from the real world she claims to understand.
Were America the “great melting pot” of myth, she may have had a point. There are many countries where immigrants have quickly assimilated into the body politic and where the electorate is near-homogenous. But America, despite its lofty aims, is not one of them. It remains deeply divided by race, by gender, by religion and by age.
As the science clearly shows, each social group responds differently to issues. When Obama wins 95 percent of black votes to Romney’s 5, it is worth GOP operatives asking why. The same applies when Hispanic voters back Obama by 75 percent to 21 percent. Or when women vote 55 percent to 44 percent in favor of Obama, and young people aged 18 to 29 divide 60 percent to 37 percent in his favor. Palin’s dismissal of such telling figures as bunk is not only a denial of hard facts, it is a suicidal rejection of the very science that might save the Republicans the next time around. She is like a member of a religious sect that does not allow medicine yet cannot understand why the patient’s condition continues to deteriorate.
Until now, the Tea Party’s rejection of rational thought only served to demonstrate that it is so lacking in the sure foundation of logical thinking that its victory, if it ever came about, would prove catastrophic. Ignorance would have overcome knowledge, and America would be turned topsy-turvy. But the dismissal, too, of all aspects of political science changes the equation completely as it sharply increases the likelihood of its defeat.
PHOTO: Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) points as she addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst