Joel Achenbach writes in yesterday’s WaPo magazine about “retail politics” and the presidential campaign which is happening in the wrong year. Towards the end, he describes what happened when he tagged along with Tom Tancredo:
One day in Keene, N.H., I tagged along with Tom Tancredo as he went from table to table in Lindy’s Diner. Tancredo is a Colorado Republican with a hard line on immigration. He said he needed to raise $1 million in the first three months of the year. Wasn’t sure he could do it. Hardly anyone knows who he is.
“Hi, I’m Tom Tancredo,” he would say at each table. Most people had no idea who he was, and he seemed a bit reluctant to utter the obvious phrase, “and I’m running for president.”
A woman asked Tancredo, “What do you think of autism in this country?” She has a 4-year-old with autism. Tancredo said, “I think much of it is due to the number of shots we give to kids . . .” They talked about mercury in vaccines’ preservatives. She was impressed by Tancredo — but she’s a Democrat. Retail has its limitations.
Left and right united against medicine! Why, Tancredo could have Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as his running mate. Denial of fact should not be the basis for politics, people.
You know why I care? It’s not because I have an autistic child, or because I’m a pediatrician who deals with autistic children on a regular basis. I’m not even planning to raise a family. No, what bothers me is a simple fact: ignorance in one part of life prepares a person for ignorance in all. Once we are willing to accept an idea because it is politically expedient without regard to the dry-as-dust reality, we compromise ourselves and open our hearts to all manner of falsehood. Alan Sokal said this rather well:
Thus, I am indeed mildly disconcerted by a society in which 50% of the adult populace believes in extrasensory perception, 42% in haunted houses, 41% in possession by the devil, 36% in telepathy, 32% in clairvoyance, 28% in astrology, 15% in channeling, and 45% in the literal truth of the creation story of Genesis. But I am far more profoundly worried by a society in which 21-32% believe that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, 43-52% think that U.S. troops in Iraq have found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda, and 15-34% think that U.S. troops have found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And If I am concerned about public belief in clairvoyance and the like, it is largely because of my suspicion that credulity in minor matters prepares the mind for credulity in matters of greater import — and, conversely, that the kind of critical thinking useful for distinguishing science from pseudoscience might also be of some use in distinguishing truths in affairs of state from lies. (Not a panacea, mind you, but just of some use.)
All we’ve got is the truth and each other.