Whose base?

I am no fan of the Republican establishment. So naturally, I am inclined to agree with the central thesis of a PJM piece by John Hawkins, which is that the Republican establishment "views the conservative base like a medieval monarch viewed his serfs."

What it all comes down to is that the Republican establishment is out of touch, doesn't respect the people who put them in office, and has no principle they wouldn't compromise for little more than a few kind words from the media.

Getting rid of many of the "old bulls" in the Republican Party may be the only saving grace of the last two disastrous election cycles that the GOP suffered through. Not only did those failures show that the policies advocated by the GOP establishment have failed the party entirely, but it helped get rid of a lot of Republican politicians who looked at the base about the same way that 14th-century French monarchs viewed their serfs. Hopefully, the pain the party experienced during Bush's second term, along with a more motivated and demanding base, will be enough to teach the GOP establishment a lesson -- so we won't have to spend another few election cycles wandering around in the political wilderness, waiting for the establishment to die off or be voted out of power so we can move forward.

There is no question that the Republican establishment is unprincipled and moribund, and that the party needs to be reinvigorated or else it will keep losing.

But a nagging question (for me at least) is who is the base?

Personally, I'd love to see the Tea Party movement simply take over the party en masse. Surely they constitute a large portion of what Hawkins calls a "more motivated and demanding base."

However, there are certain "motivated and demanding" activists who are (IMO) just as likely to cause the party lose as the moribund, out-of-touch establishment. While it would be illogical and unreasonable of me to make sweeping generalizations about these people and say that they all fall into the same camp, the fact is that their views are sufficiently outside of the American mainstream to provide plenty of ammo for the Democrats. And they don't mind making this an easy task for the Democrats by being plenty loud.

Mind you, I do not think the Republican base believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya and the State of Hawaii is lying. Nor do I think that the Republican base agrees with Rush Limbaugh that evolution is wrong, and creationism is the way to go. However, such views are asserted loudly enough -- and repeated often enough by accepted spokesmen for the so-called Republican "base" -- that Republicans will be hard pressed to distance themselves from them regardless of who actually wins or holds power. (Frankly, I might find it a bit embarrassing to be told that I belong to a party that opposes evolution, but I have a thick skin.)

Once again, being a libertarian is a curse, because libertarians have no responsibility for any of this, and because they tend to abhor political meetings, they sit on the sidelines, later claiming to be squeaky clean. They can plead not guilty to being part of the Republican establishment, and not guilty to being part of the motivated and demanding activist base.

Then later, of course, libertarians can smugly say "I TOLD YOU SO!"

If I were part of "the base," I'd probably hate libertarians even if I agreed with them.

However, if we consider that the base has no official gatekeepers, perhaps libertarians ought to infiltrate it by stealth.

posted by Eric on 05.21.09 at 09:53 AM


I like to think that I am part of the base of the Republican Party. Yes, there are a lot of Americans (many of them Democrats, by the way), who believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old--and not surprisingly, think evolution is wrong.

But there's a lot of members of the base who think that public schools would benefit from a bit less arrogance in how evolution is taught, and bit more respect for differing points of view--and a bit more acknowledgement that there are still a fair number of serious questions and problems that evolutionary theory hasn't adequately answered.

Good science teaching emphasizes science as process, not dogma--and evolution is taught by a lot of secondary teachers as dogma.

Clayton E. Cramer   ·  May 21, 2009 1:07 PM

It is pretty clear who the base is. They are the folks who live in a shrinking number of Southern States. For the most part.

The evidence from geology and radioactive decay is rather strong that the earth is about 4 billion years old. The evidence from DNA, chemistry, and the fossil record is pretty good that evolution explains the origin of the species. Plus the two theories compliment each other. The evidence for those propositions is good enough that the Catholic Church follows them. Evidently they wish to avoid another Galileo incident.

I think the Republicans would do OK despite all that if it was a small government fiscally responsible party (supposedly Republican Principles). But they are big spenders just like the Democrats. And the Republican party tends to be where the loudest supporters of the War On God's Plants lives. A rather strange position for a party that currently assumes the mantle of "The Party of God".

I used to be a reliable Republican voter. Now I just stay home.

And what about the Libertarian Party? I used to be a strong supporter of that party until 9/11. A party so anti-war that it believed that going to war because of 9/11 is not justified is too insane to get my support.

What is left? I just sit on the sidelines and bitch.

M. Simon   ·  May 21, 2009 1:32 PM

there are still a fair number of serious questions and problems that evolutionary theory hasn't adequately answered.

Yes, there are. I learned about many of them when I took Paleontology at UC Berkeley. Simplifying complex theories in an attempt to teach them to school kids is problematic, but their complexities do not make them wrong.

I'm wondering about the undeniable fact that McCain won the GOP primary. I realize that moderates are hated by the base, but if moderates are defined as those who elected McCain in the primary, I see a bit of a logistical problem with "the base" running them out of the party.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 21, 2009 1:39 PM

I'm not familiar with the problems of evolutionary theory. But I can tell you that the problems of plasma physics (a theory that has only a very small political component) are very severe.

It is not that there are any disagreements about the fundamentals. It is just "how do you apply them in a given case".

Eric. Perhaps a post on the problems of Paleontology is in order. I'd like to learn more.

M. Simon   ·  May 21, 2009 2:08 PM

You know, since the election I have been watching the some of the republican sites slowly become just as rigid, hysterical and vicious as the democratic sites were during the Bush years.
I shake my head.
There are too many "purity" tests to pass, too many claws out for anyone who doesn't perfectly conform.
Elections in the U.S. are won by swing voters and moderates. I would really like to see the Obama administration voted out, but this shrillness is pretty much guaranteeing it another term.

Lynne   ·  May 21, 2009 4:24 PM
Simplifying complex theories in an attempt to teach them to school kids is problematic, but their complexities do not make them wrong.
Misleading students about them (assuming that secondary teachers even know about them) doesn't make for good science teaching.

The Young Earthers stick obstinately to a 6000 to 10,000 year old planet because then, there's not enough for evolution to happen.

But there's an increasing problem on the other end. As I pointed out here, Earth is 4.52 billion years old. The Late Heavy Bombardment--and the Earth cooled down to boiling--sometime between 4.0 and 3.8 billion years ago. But the oldest surviving fossils we have are 3.5 billion years old!

And it get worse:

It turns out that there is considerable argument about when our atmosphere first had substantial oxygen in it. Here's a book by Stephen E. Kesler and Hiroshi Ohmoto, Evolution of Earth's Early Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, and Biosphere--Constraints From Ore Deposits that argues that there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether the atmosphere had free oxygen at 3.8 billion years ago, or not until much later.

A 3.8 billion year free oxygen atmosphere almost certainly requires photosynthesis--and therefore life. That would mean that from sterilizing heat to enough photosynthetic life to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen would be a period between 0 and 200 million years. Blind, random, luck, starts to look pretty unlikely.

Frances Westall and Maud Walsh, "Early Life on Earth : 3.5-3.3 Ga microbial remains from South Africa," Geophysical Research Abstracts points to the 3.5 billion year old microfossils, and observes something that should be making shivers run up the spines of those committed to a blind, random process for life:

The latter is a relatively evolved mechanism for obtaining energy to drive cellular processes. Given the fact that these are amongst the oldest microfossils yet discovered, this implies that these oldest probable microfossils are already far evolved from LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, and that traces of the earlier steps in the origin and evolution of life are missing on Earth (rocks older than 3.5 Ga are too badly metamorphosed to be used in microfossil studies).

Hmmm: "far evolved" not just from the first life, but from the last life that was still a common ancestor of all life. And somehow, we go from life-sterilizing heat, through a completely random, blind process that creates life, and is already "far evolved" in 300 to 500 million years.

Still confident that there's absolutely nothing worrisome about the certainty with which evolution is taught in secondary schools?

Clayton E. Cramer   ·  May 21, 2009 5:09 PM
But I can tell you that the problems of plasma physics (a theory that has only a very small political component) are very severe.
String theory, from what I read in Astronomy magazine, is very close to being untestable--and the one actual test to which it has been applied--it failed. And yet string theory is all the rage in teaching right--even though some of its characteristics are disturbingly parallel to Intelligent Design: almost untestable, but what little is testable--fails. (ID, to its credit, may not be testable at all--which gives it an advantage of something that fails the first test.)
Clayton E. Cramer   ·  May 21, 2009 5:16 PM

That's odd. I posted a very detailed discussion of why Young Earthers get insistent on a Young Earth--and why we're running out of time at the other end of the scale as well (too little time between formation of the Earth and the earliest fossils)--and it seems to have disappeared.

Clayton E. Cramer   ·  May 22, 2009 1:15 PM

Thanks for alerting me. It didn't disappear; it just never appeared, because the spam catcher delayed it for approval. (More than one html link will trigger this feature, and there's no way to turn it off that I know of.)

Eric Scheie   ·  May 22, 2009 1:31 PM

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