Friday, February 4, 2011

Mark Kirk - so much for one of the few adults left in the GOP

The blogosphere is abuzz with a recent pronouncement by Senator Mark Kirk (R-Asshat), the holder of Barack Obama's old seat. Kirk blamed his recent flip-flop on climate change on... the personal life of Al Gore.
The consensus behind the climate change bill collapsed and then further deteriorated with the personal and political collapse of Vice President Gore.
TPM puts it succinctly:
He's probably referring to this: in 2009, a massage therapist in Oregon went to the police and accused Al Gore of sexually assaulting her three years previously. Gore ultimately wasn't prosecuted. Soon thereafter, he and his wife divorced separated. Still it's hard to figure how whatever happened that night in 2006 has any bearing on the greenhouse effect.
That last sentence should be sufficient to prevent this from being an actual reason for any sane adult, much less a sitting US Senator. But we don't live in sane times, thanks to the GOP, we live in a time where a large group of lunatics are taken seriously and the rest of us are "shrill" if we point out that not only is the emperor not wearing clothes, he needs to be wearing a straightjacket.

I would expect this sort of pronouncement from the lunatic caucus of the GOP, like Mike Pence or Jim Inhofe or Tom Coburn, but this is coming from Mark Kirk, wildly hailed as a leading member of the sanity caucus of the Republican Party, such as it is. To quote the great political philosopher Oscar Martinez, "The coalition for reason is extremely weak."

It's a sign of these times that a statement like Kirk's is not immediately self-refuting, that you must point out that the validity of a scientific theory does not depend on the personal life of its most prominent public advocate, one who played no role in its discovery or formulation. But this is an old game with the right-wing, attacking the messenger and ignoring the message, tagging their enemies with a label like "liberal" or "socialist" instead of engaging with their statements and ideas. Their well-trained followers immediately discount anything said by those people labeled. You could also point out that Kirk, recently divorced amid rumors of homosexuality, shouldn't be discounting someone else because of his separation from his wife. But we learned long ago there are different rules for GOP behavior when a man who ripped apart someone else's marriage at age 41 and chalks it up to a "youthful indiscretion" impeaches another man for getting a blow-job. And today, of course, Congress is full of GOP members who frequent hookers and bribe mistresses who are gleefully voted into office by members of the "religious" right.

This isn't the first time that Kirk has flip-flopped on climate change. Once hailed as a moderate on the issue, he got heat from the teabaggers about it. In 2009, he told a crowd:
Briefly about cap and trade: I voted for it because it was in the narrow interests of my Congressional district. But as your representative, representing the entire state of Illinois, I will vote No on that bill.
What exactly is he saying here? Is he claiming that the residents of the 10th district of Illinois, whom he represented for nearly a decade, would be especially affected by climate change? Perhaps they would be inundated by floodwaters from a rising Lake Michigan. But now that he represents the whole state? Fuck the 10th, let 'em drown.

This sort of behavior is glossed over as Kirk is repeatedly praised as a moderate, intellectual force in the GOP. A representative example is this David Brooks encomium from October 2010, which starts in full tongue bath mode:
Mark Kirk has had a brilliant career. He graduated from Cornell, obtained a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Georgetown. He worked at the State Department, the World Bank and the law firm of Baker & McKenzie before becoming counsel to the House committee on foreign affairs.
Bobo goes on to praise Kirk's naval career and his intellectual gifts and concludes that this is the sort of man that we need in politics, the great white centrist hope that the Village salivates over. He glosses over Kirk's history of lying about his teaching experience and his military career and is butthurt that Kirk's Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, had the audacity to make an issue out of Kirk's mendacity. He ignores that Kirk was disciplined twice by the military for violating rules regarding political activity on the job and lied about that too. He also doesn't mention that this great centrist was campaigning for the endorsement of Queen Wingnut Sarah Palin.

Brooks is obviously most enamored of Kirk's intellect:
He is interesting to interview because he still acts like an intelligence officer in search of data. Everybody talks about the deficits, but Kirk went into the bowels of the Treasury Department to interview the civil servants who actually do the borrowing to understand how a fiscal crisis might start. When the stimulus bill was released, Kirk pulled an all-nighter to read it and emerged as an early critic of the way it was structured.
On the issue of climate change, does Bobo think that Kirk is still acting "like an intelligence officer in search of data"? Did Kirk dive into the countless scientific papers and data substantiating climate change? Who are the scientists he interviewed? Here, instead, the great intellect is insulting our intelligence, putting forth explanations for his shifting positions that explain nothing, preposterous explanations that not even a teabagger would find credible. Does he think anyone will buy this? It doesn't matter, as long as he gets enough votes to squeak by another 48-46 victory, and as long as Bobo still loves him.

Kirk isn't alone, of course. Paul Ryan is being hailed as some kind of economic wizard, Eric Cantor is called a policy wonk, Rand Paul has become a brave intellectual contrarian, and all of these labels are applied with a straight face by the Bobos of the Village. Of course, they offer little more in the way of serious policy contributions than the Mike Pences and Jim Inhofes, but since they have more mainstream accents, are more handsome and vaguely bookish-seeming, and say slightly fewer obviously crazy things, they have been cast in the role of moderates in the black comedy that is our current political discourse. Until we can effectively attack the fake personas they've managed to create, these faux-moderates will continue to drag our discourse rightward and our country downward.

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