The ‘ignorance is bliss’/’ride’em cowboy’ mentality of today’s GOP

by Linda beale

The ‘ignorance is bliss’/’ride’em cowboy’ mentality of today’s GOP

Today’s GOP is dominated by the Tea Party types that are a cross between an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand– the “ignorance is bliss” philosophy– and a 1860s cowboy as depicted in the 1960s western-mania TV shows– the “hell bent on raising a ruckus”/”my way or the highway” mentality.  The combination is deadly dangerous for democratic egalitarianism.

On the ignorance is bliss side, see, for one example out of many possible, the “two pending Republican bills that seek to curtail or end vital surveys by the Census Bureau.”  Editorial, Stragegic Ignorance, New York Times (May 25, 2013).

As described in GOP Census Bill Would Eliminate Key Economic Indicators, Huff. Post (May 26, 2013), the only purpose of H.R. 1639,  the bill introduced by Jeff Duncan (R-SC), appears to be to ensure that the government does not have reliable data on the many important indicators of the health of the economy, from housing and health to crime, employment and the environment.

A spokesman for Duncan declined to explain why the congressman wants to eliminate such data or even whether he understands that the data would be compromised by his bill, which has 10 co-sponsors.

But the proposed Census Reform Act is explicit in its intent to end nearly every survey the Census conducts, mandating the “repeal” of the nation’s agricultural census, economic census, government census and mid-decade census. It would also bar the bureau from carrying out the American Community Survey(ACS), which the House voted last year to end, although the Senate let that measure die.

There is very little done by the government or big businesses that does not at some level depend on the reams of information provided by the Census surveys, from writing regulations and distributing federal services to rolling out new products and finding customers. The ACS is an ongoing survey that collects data every month, instead of every 10 years, so that governments and businesses have current information. Id.

Because it bars the Secretary of Commerce and the Census Bureau from carrying out “any survey, sampling, or questionnaire”, the bill would effectively hamstring the government’s ability to gather any kind of information other than a numerical count of population.  Note that this would also include all of the information collected by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, since those statistics are generally gathered through the U.S. Census Bureau.  See, e.g., Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey.  To get a further sense of the importance of the information provided through the Department of Labor with Census Bureau support, see this page showing the subject categoriesof Labor statistics collected.  Some information collected by the Census Bureau is also used by the Department of Health and Human Services, although DHHS surveys are so specialized that the department has an extensive set of specialized surveys that various of its agencies conduct.  (Let’s hope Duncan doesn’t notice them, or he will set out to gut that agency, too.)

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Rand Paul (R-KY) which specifically targets the American Community Survey–the frequently updated survey that gathers information anonymously and provides a wealth of data about economic trends across the country. See Poe press release; see also Huff Post, Rand Paul, Ted Poe Sponsor Bill that Seeks Religion Law that Already Exists (May 25, 2013) (noting that a 1976 law already ensures that answers about religion on the Census are voluntary, but the Paul/Poe bill gratuitiously includes the same provision again).

Paul claims the mandatory survey is too intrusive–he wants it to be “voluntary”.  Voluntary surveys get low participation rates, particularly in some geographic areas.  The data needs are universal–having gaping holes where there were too many dropouts to give the survey statistical validity would be a huge problem.  But Paul doesn’t care–he’s too busy scoring Tea Party points with anarcho-libertarians who’ve been brought up (since Reagan) to think that “government is the enemy”, while at the same time benefitting from billions in government aid because of these very surveys.   And too busy using terms like “protect Americans” (from the Poe Press Release) in hypocritical ways that have nothing to do with protecting anybody but the elite–since the result of not having the ACS survey will be to allow more misleading pronouncements to go unchecked by data.  Like Sarah Palin’s ignorant assertions about Alaskan self-sufficiency (when more federal tax dollars go to Alaska than come from it), these anti-tax/anti-government claims are mere posturing that misleads ill-informed people to support policies that favor the elite.   As the HuffPost article notes,

[T]he 14 largest counties in Poe’s state of Texas received more than $14 billion in federal funding in 2008 based on ACS data, according to a recent Brookings Institution study. Id.

Without such data, it would be harder to show the failure of the laughable tax-cuts-for-the-rich/austerity-for-everybody-else policies of the rightwing in Congress and in state legislatures.  Take, for example, the recent reporting about the way the GOP legislatures that have decided NOT to expand Medicaid will leave the most vulnerable poor in the lurch (yet again) as far as receiving health care that all of us need and most of us take for granted.  The better off will receive the benefit intended by Obamacare, but the worst off will remain vulnerable in those recalcitrant states where the GOP runs the show with the “ignorance-is-bliss” mentality.  Without the kind of regular information collected by the Census Bureau and in particular the American Community Survey, the government won’t be able to track results of these Red State “experiments” in austerity to show how much like Third World countries their states become regarding poverty, unemployment, and all the other economic indicators provided by the census.

This ostrich-with-tits-head-in-the-sand mentality makes sense only if the ideas you support are purely ideological ones, for which data is irrelevant.  As Maurine Haver, head of Haver Analytics, noted to a reporter:

[T]here is a fundamental divide between people who are interested in solid, reality-based data and those who are not. If you know what you think, you don’t need information to help you assess what’s going on,” she said. “The people that need information are the people who use it because they really want the truth, not people who think that because they believe it, it becomes the truth.” Id.(paragraphing changed and italics added).

Of late, that seems to be the position of the Tea Party reps in Congress, like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and too many others.   And they don’t care about the ensuing harm to ordinary folk from their efforts.

Need more proof of the ostrich-plus-cowboy mentality?  Just look at the fight breaking out in Congress between Ted Cruz and the rest of the Tea Party cohort with the somewhat more sensible GOP members like John McCain over the debt ceiling. Kusskin-Shoptaw, McCain, Tea Party Senators Squabble over Debt Ceiling Procedures, (May 22, 2013).

Once again, the Tea Party is willing to run the United States off a cliff over an artificial fiscal limit that is, in the actual economic scheme of things, meaningless except as a stage for such masquerades about fiscal responsibility concerns.  The Party of No wants to Know Nothing to disguise its “bankrupt the US to get at the liberals” ideology in the sheep’s clothing of a fake “we care about economic responsibility” policy initiative.

Freedom does NOT reside in allowing brute force economic might to set the rules.  Freedom is having government institutions that work and are subject to the will of the people.  So that when 81% of the American public want gun check legislation, Congress listens to the people instead of to the well-funded NRA.  So that when a majority of the American people don’t want corporate funding to be siphoned to campaigns behind the closed doors of erroneous 501(c)(4) status, IRS employees are allowed to do their work to find “parties” that are circumventing politicking disclosure requirements rather than being hung out to twist in the wind under a fake “scandal” created by the ideological anti-tax right.  So that when agencies allocate resources or describe results of economic legislation, they have accurate data to do so.  Freedom does not rest in willful ignorance.