Morris: 1995: The Year of Ignorance
"He made us feel comfortable with our prejudices." That is how First Lady Rosalynn Carter described the cultural impact of Ronald Reagan. Ten years later, the seeds of ignorance planted by Reagan have blossomed into a bountiful crop of know nothingness as his disciples have taken over state legislatures and the Congress. A tidal wave of stupidity is washing over America. Listen to Republican State Representative Henry Aldridge of North Carolina's justification for eliminating state abortion funds to poor women. "The facts show that people who are raped -- who are truly raped -- the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work, and they don't get pregnant." Or Texas Senator Phil Gramm's comment, "We're the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat." Who could forget the comment by Dinesh D'Souza, darling of conservatives, in his new book The End of Racism?, "If America as a nation owes blacks as a group reparations for slavery, what do blacks as a group owe America for the abolition of slavery?" Remember the analysis of rich and poor by North Carolina Republican State Senator Fred Heineman, whose own annual income is $185,000? "When I see someone who is making anywhere from $300,000 to $750,000 that's middle class". Isolated examples? I think not. Consider the ignorance of the leader of the conservative revolution himself. Newt Gingrich recently censured New York City for its "culture of waste" resulting from its reliance on federal funds. The Atlanta Constitution quickly pointed out that Gingrich's home district of Cobb County receives twice as much money per capita from the federal government as does New York City. Indeed, New Yorkers get back only 80 cents for every dollar they send to Washington while Newt's constituents receive $1.80 for every dollar they pay in federal taxes. Allan J. Lichtman Professor of History at American University, after reviewing Gingrich's televised course, Renewing American Civilization, observes, "He manages to get through the entire Civil War without mentioning slavery." In To Renew America Gingrich devotes nearly a page to how Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention urged prayer at a critical moment. Gingrich writes, "the Convention heeded Franklin's eloquent plea". Actually, the Founders refused to have a prayer. Gingrich rewrites history to serve his ideology. For example, he describes how a worldwide information system has been created by "unknown entrepreneurs" because "no government could have planned this system. In fact, an active government...would have done everything it could to put roadblocks in the way." Apparently the Professor and Speaker of the House is unaware that the Internet was a creation of the federal government. I said Gingrich is the leader of the conservative revolution but that is not completely accurate. A year ago the Republican Party proudly anointed another man their sage and the key reason they had swept into power: Rush Limbaugh. A book could be written about Rush Limbaugh's penchant for inaccuracies. In fact, one has, The Way Things Aren't, written and heavily footnoted by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Listen to America's master teacher at work. "It has not been proven that nicotine is addictive...". "The poorest people in America are better off than the mainstream families of Europe". In fact, the average cash income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans is $5226. The average cash income of European countries is about $20,000. "Even if the polar ice caps melted, there would be no rise in ocean levels...After all, if you have a glass of water with ice cubes in it, as the ice melts, it simply turns to liquid and the water level in the glass remains the same". "Styrofoam and plastic milk jugs are biodegradable. Do you know what isn't biodegradable? Paper." "Kansas City per capita now has more people working for government than they have working in the private sector..." In fact the Kansas City metropolitan area has 45,000 out of about 850,000 workers employed by all levels of government, about 5 percent of the total". Former Secretary of Education William Bennett describes Rush Limbaugh as "very serious intellectually". The next time you invite William Bennett to speak on his favorite topic, moral virtue, ask him about willful ignorance and lying. A few months ago the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to the three scientists who proved the connection between human made chemicals and ozone depletion. At the time conservative Republicans were holding hearings on a bill to stop the phase-out of ozone depleting chemicals. Said chemist Susan Solomon of NOAA, the award "is very much appreciated and needed right now. We've gotten tired of arguing that the Earth is round." Ms. Solomon underestimates the strength of know nothingness. Within hours S. Fred Singer, the conservative's favorite critic of ozone depletion announced, "The award of the Nobel Prize does not settle these issues and should not be used to substitute for sound science." 1995 was the year the know nothings took over America. Will 1996 bring more of the same, or a return to reasoned debate?