(As usual, the syndication deal means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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DARWIN'S NATURAL ELECTION
BY BOB FRANKEN
We all know what President Barack Obama means to convey when he says Republicans stand for “social Darwinism.” It's his way of describing the enemy's consistent coddle-the-wealthy tenets that reflect a modern-day “survival of the fittest” philosophy. It is a rare case of political rhetoric matching reality. What's perplexing, though, is how the less prosperous, less fit in today's cruel world often are the most self-certain advocates of the very dogma that threatens their own survival.
The best explanation comes from Charlie Darwin himself, in a pithy line, already probably well-known to the well-read, as well as to those of us who found it on a smartphone quotation app: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Too many conservative leaders are fully aware of that, so they try to appeal to the hearts and mindlessness of the millions who are looking for easy answers when they don't even want to bother to understand the questions. They have rock-solid opinions based on squishy thinking, and they are easily bamboozled as the principal targets of unprincipled demagogues. They are riled up by hot-button sloganeering that's meant to distort: “reform” becomes “socialism,” “women's rights” a “war on religion.” Such deception helps assure the survival of the specious.
Before Democrats get all sanctimonious, we should remind them of how they take their own cheap shots. Barack Obama is hardly above the fray. Our reminder came when he tried to frame the health-care case with some clumsy remarks about the fundamental concept of judicial review. It was transparent game-playing, and all he got out of it was embarrassment. It shows he has some work to do before he can blow smoke like Republicans. For starters, they seem incapable of embarrassment, which is a huge advantage.
Newt Gingrich makes a career out of sound bites that range from loopy to dangerous, but an amazing number of people buy it when he casts himself as the unique champion of “big ideas.” His act has had a limited run. What's really big about his campaign is the big letdown, but still, the fact that he was on top of his party's presidential pile for a while is an amazement. So, too, is the fact that Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum also have enjoyed moments at No. 1.
For that matter, the man who slogged through the gunk to become the party's almost-certain nominee is another case in point. Mitt Romney has managed to run backward from his own record, which is really quite an accomplishment when you consider how often his foot is in his mouth. He demonstrates time and again that he is part of the self-appointed ruling class of financial manipulators who have gotten rich while ruining the lives of the millions who aren't members of the club. Of course he embraces the party's cruel Hood Robin budget plan, gushing that it's “marvelous.”
In spite of the fact that he comes across to many as an awkward automaton, out of touch with normal humans, Marvelous Mitt consistently shows up in polls as the candidate who is “most electable” and/or “most likely to beat Obama.” That is demonstrably untrue; the man “most likely to beat Obama” is obviously Barack Obama.
How else can we explain the fact that the Republican mix of tea party hardliners, religious zealots and oligarchs has a plausible chance? It's because campaign professionals know the sad truth, that the best way to success in politics is to overcome facts and appeal to the voters' worst instincts. Going back to our app, we find that Mr. Darwin covered that by pointing out, “The very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason.”
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.