Arsonists in the Fire Department

Image by Pink Floyd

Image by Pink Floyd

We are now four days from a possible default on the national debt, a seemingly unimaginable turn of events brought about by the willful intransigence of a small minority of Tea Party Republicans in the house of representatives. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the financial industry or the business world who wouldn’t describe the prospect of the United States refusing to pay its bills as anything less than disastrous. But that vociferous minority has seized the debt ceiling as a hostage in order to – well, to do what, exactly?  At first the demand was to achieve what they have not been able to achieve at the ballot box, by the legislative process, or in the courts: repeal of the Affordable Care Act. When Obama Care went live, the Tea Party caucus in the House moved seamlessly on to other hostages; social security and Medicare “reform”, tax reform, and (in a triumphant elevation of regulatory minutia) the elimination of the medical device tax which is a minor appendage of the ACA. Yes, in a desperate attempt to salvage something – anything – out of this sorry episode, the stability of the global economy is being threatened to roll back taxes on stethoscopes.

One of the cornucopia of ironies this lethal temper tantrum presents is that a number of the members of the house holding the debt ceiling hostage are now blithely dismissing the disaster default would bring. Why, welching on our debt might even calm the markets and bring order to the global economy. In other words, let’s go ahead and shoot the hostages – nobody likes them anyway.

It should come as no surprise that there is a significant and very influential group of lawmakers who would parade their ignorance of economic affairs at a time like this. Ignoring expert opinion has become obligatory, even a matter of pride, within much of the Tea Party. As Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein have written,

“However awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become a resurgent outlier: ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Nowhere is this willful ignorance more obvious than in the party’s response to global warming. The Republican Party generally, and the Tea Party in particular, have long been riding the climate change denial train. But they are now moving beyond mere denial to active hostility to the evidence itself, going so far as to legislate against facts. The North Carolina legislature, taking a page from King Canute’s play book, has banned the state from basing coastal policies on scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise.

Not to be outdone, Kansas has hit what Bloomberg News calls “the self-destruct button”. The Sunflower State is proposing to ban all state and municipal funds from being used for anything related to “sustainable development,” which it defines as “development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.” Preserving the environment for generations to come? The horror. I look forward to a state ordering people to burn briquettes indoors when they barbecue because carbon monoxide poisoning is just a global elitist scam.

This would all be risible fun if we didn’t all have to breathe the same air and suffer through the same droughts and mega storms. It’s one thing to have substantive policy differences, it’s another to simply shut the conversation down and go home. Because with global climate change, there is no separate home to go to. As senator Patrick Moynihan famously said, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

It’s not as if there haven’t been “conservative” responses to global climate change which appear to have been drafted by inhabitants of planet earth. The American Conservative Magazine is certainly conservative – the word is right there in the title – and it was founded by the conservative Republican stalwart and one-time presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan. This month’s issue has an article by Andrew Moylan arguing that conservatives can fight climate change without growing government by instituting a gasp! carbon tax. Good luck getting that through this Congress Mr. Moylan, you cockeyed optimist, you.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report concludes unequivocally that financial markets are the only hope in the race to stop global warming. An international organization of climate change scientists calling for a market-based solution? What could be more “conservative” than that? This should be right in the Republican Party’s wheel house. But a party that declares its willingness to crash the global economy to prevent millions from getting affordable health insurance, while simultaneously denying that the hostage is even worth troubling about, is not a party we can look to for any constructive response to the fire roaring about our heads. Relying on the Tea Party-dominated Republican Party as a partner is like calling the fire department and finding it’s staffed with arsonists.

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