The Face of Conservatism

An eponym is a human name that has been turned into a word. There are many examples of eponyms in the English language. A boycott, for example, comes to us via Charles Boycott. Leotard comes from Jules Leotard. One of the great things about English is its great adaptability. It adds, subtracts, and changes word usage swiftly and easily. In a global village that faces exponential growth of technology, this linguistic nimbleness is a major asset. A word like “selfie” can be quickly invented and disseminated as needed to accommodate new technology and accompanying behaviors. But I think we are falling behind a bit and need to create some new eponyms. For example, sports cheaters might be referred to as Armstrongs. Wasting your talent and good fortune should be called doing a Lohan or a Hilton.

But these are all minor issues word wise. The Republican Party needs to be wary of this aspect of eponymous word creation. The party invested huge amounts of time and energy into fighting against gay rights. And they lost that war badly. Exhibit A is that a gay activist turned Rick Santorum’s name into an eponym for … um … well, feel free to Google it yourself. A more ominous culture war is the war on science. Every week, thousands of industrialists, bloggers, creationists, anti-vaxxers, and politicians spread lies and distortions about science, scientific method, and scientific evidence. What can a rational person do when public figures say, “I’m not a doctor, but Ebola can be spread through the air”? Why is it that whenever someone starts a statement with “I’m not a doctor / scientist / fill in the blank,” he or she is about to say something that is contradicted by almost every expert in the field under discussion? What is so infuriating to the scientific community is the absolute arrogance of this type of ignorance. The one with the uninformed assertion is “right” and all of the experts are wrong. People who don’t accept evolution claim to understand the spread of diseases. People who pray for “End Times” claim to know more about global disasters than climate experts. People who don’t know the difference between a double blind study and a double martini pontificate about the safety of vaccines.

The problem for conservatives is that, except for the anti-vaxxers, most of the people fighting science are Republican. A political ideology that can trace its intellectual roots to William F. Buckley now finds itself represented by Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. For a party whose hold on political power is increasingly propped up by the gerrymandering of a shrinking white minority, that is not good news. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana came right out at a national conference and warned party members to stop tolerating Republicans who say stupid things. As a result of the 2014 election, we now live in a country where Republicans who reject science are in charge of the national scientific research budget. At a time when we know that the human race faces preventable calamities that include asteroids, pandemics, and global warming, the keys to the science lab are held by people who believe that Kirk Cameron is Nostradamus.

Louie_Gohmert,_official_portrait,_111th_Congress

Louie Gohmert (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular, are in danger of becoming memes for people who are smug about their scientific ignorance. The party that initiated the space race and made math and science education national priorities now looks to Ken Hamm for geology lessons and attacks Common Core. If Republicans are lucky or very clever, only one of their members will become the Party’s symbol of their embrace of antiscientific thinking. Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas for example. Throwing him or someone like him under the bus will allow Republicans to step back from the cliff they are heading toward and reclaim their long history of intelligent political discourse.

Congressman Gohmert has already earned the ire of the mainstream party members through his revolt against John Boehner, so they won’t miss him. He is also a Tea Party favorite and has made enough anti-science statements to be a poster child for the movement. A Republican Party that is serious about reclaiming the White House could win a lot of Independent votes by publicly rejecting the “Gohmert” wing of the party. The fact that there are already websites devoted to “Dumb things Louie Gohmert has said” will make it easy for mainstream Republicans to morph Gohmert into an eponymous sacrificial lamb.

Science has a long history of being attacked. But those who have cast their political fortunes with the anti-science groups have always lost in the end. Time is running out for the Republicans to control their own destiny. All it will take is one scientific crisis for the public to turn to science and away from those who opposed it. A real pandemic, not the media manufactured Ebola fear campaign, will turn the country blue unless conservatives can change their image. And it’s not a question of if, only of when.