Are there lunatics among us?
There is increasing evidence that an important part of the Republican Party is crazy. Unfortunately, the part of the Republican Party -- which could properly be called the "hard right" -- that may be exhibiting signs of insanity is the part that on some issues presently controls the House of Representatives, and thus has the power to block all forward movement by the federal government.
One sign of insanity is when you begin to lose touch with concrete pieces of information and evidence around you. It's sometimes called denial. Example: Congress people with tea party origins maintain that cutting taxes on the wealthy will create jobs. That's the reason they give for reducing the tax burden on the richest among us. But they don't adduce serious economic research to substantiate this belief. A lot of their tax reduction ideas, however, are really aimed at reducing the size of government, which they consider inappropriate in both scale and role. Hence their willingness to let the sequester take effect.
On the critical issue of global warming, the hard right says either that climate change is a hoax or they don't believe it's man-made. But the considered opinion of an overwhelming majority of scientists generally and of climate experts specifically is that climate change is real and that human activity is causing this particular dangerous and sharply accelerating round of global warming.
Another sign of mental instability is escapism -- when you take refuge in fantasy rather than face reality. The hard right's proposals for dealing with health care are a good example of this. One Republican congressman -- who is a doctor no less -- Rep. Paul C. Broun from Georgia, wants to freeze some health system expenditures by the federal government at the present level. Just freeze them -- not slow their rate of growth, not reform the system. Freeze costs and send the money in bulk to the states to deal with the problem.
This is a reckless -- perhaps even sociopathic -- idea, in a world where the number of aging Americans, and therefore the number needing health care, is growing. To attempt to reform the health care system and slow the cost spiral makes sense; but to freeze expenditures arbitrarily is like amputating a leg rather than resetting the broken bone.
Throughout history there have been wacky movements. The Luddites in England during the early 19th century went around smashing machines with sledgehammers as a way of resisting the Industrial Revolution.
The emergence of an energetic hard right movement in this country comes at an unfortunate moment of weakness for the United States. We are not united behind responsible, growth-focused economic policies, and the international order is being reshaped. The Atlantic institutions that dominated the world since World War II are being supplanted by a new global system in whose formulation the United States may not play a large role because of its political paralysis. And because the American political system is built on checks and balances, a group that is so dominant in one house of the Congress can gum up the works pretty badly on almost any issue it chooses.
I don't think any of us can say with certainty if the antics of the hard right are a permanent and dangerous threat to the Republic, or just a lunar phase that will pass. But there's a lot riding on the answer to that question.Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.