The Party of Knowledge vs. the Party of Ignorance

Republicans use a dirty trick to block a science-funding bill. The Democrats should use this to help mobilize the scientific part of the party’s base.

Not only do the conservative movement and the Republican Party hate new knowledge, they hate the people who produce it. The latest maneuver in the House – where the Republicans used an obscene little trick to kill a bill to provide more funding for research and for science education – illustrates the point.

The bill was ready to pass the House when the Republicans offered a “motion to recommit with instructions.” The minority is allowed one such motion per bill. So the Republicans offered a motion that would have gutted the bill by freezing all the increased funding until the Twelfth of Nev – until the Federal budget was balanced. Easy to defeat, no? Not when the Republicans also included a change to fire federal civil servants who view porn “including child pornography” – at work.

Now of course an anti-porn amendment could have been added at any earlier stage. But no such proposal was ever offered. Instead, the Republicans set things up so that to vote for more science funding the Democrats would have had to vote for bureaucrats watching kiddie-porn. So the motion passed, and high-school science teachers will get laid off while university labs have to shed staff: not such a bright idea in a recession, you might have thought.

Obviously, the GOP didn’t want to debate science funding on its merits, so they resorted to a dirty trick. And none of the folks involved seems to want to talk to the press about it. The Democrats pulled the bill, and will try to regroup next week.

One of the odd political disappointments of the Obama Administration has been its failure to notice that the folks in the knowledge business constitute a large, prosperous, and politically active class. (The employees of the University of California gave more money to both the Obama primary campaign and the Obama general campaign in 2008 than the employees of any other employer. The same was true for Kerry in ’04 and Gore in ’00.) “Science” remains a winner in public-opinion terms, while in policy terms the level of support for research in anything except biomedicine remains absurdly low. The Party of Ignorance is making it easy to make an appeal to that group based both on its beliefs and on its interests, if Obama portrays himself as the defender of embattled science against the Forces of Darkness. This is one piece of the base that ought to be easy to mobilize for the Fall.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “The Party of Knowledge vs. the Party of Ignorance”

  1. Which Dems voted to recommit?

    I think the only way to work this out is when they fear their base more than they fear the Republican base.


  2. Perhaps you'll regard this as an unrelated question, but does there ever come a point where the deficit is so freaking huge, that the fact you think some increment of spending is for something worthwhile wouldn't justify inflating the deficit a bit more? Or are you, on the theory that deficits never matter, in favor of buying everything that looks good, no matter how deep in debt the country gets?


    Just because past administrations couldn't pay the bill and played with our budget like a kid getting a credit card (Repubs mostly, in recent decades) doesn't mean we have to look the other way on worthwhile spending.

    Besides, I'm sure the money can be found somewhere in that big slice of pie known as the defense budget. Maybe cancel a Blackwater, excuse me, Xe contract or two…

  4. So, Darek, your personal answer is, "No, the deficit never gets large enough that the spending spree must stop, if Democrats are in charge of the spending." Glad to have that clear.

    In the mean time, I don't think a party that resorts to stuff like this is really in any position to complain about dirty tricks. Complain about tricks like the amendment above when your hands are clean, ok? (IOW, never.)

  5. "does there ever come a point where the deficit is so freaking huge, that the fact you think some increment of spending is for something worthwhile wouldn’t justify inflating the deficit a bit more? Or are you, on the theory that deficits never matter, in favor of buying everything that looks good, no matter how deep in debt the country gets?"

    There is never a point where total debt (much less deficit) makes failure to seize a profitable investment opportunity wise, because if it's debt or annual deficits that concern you, the more good investments you make, the less the problem.

    Similarly, there is never a good fiscal excuse for throwing money away on things that don't create wealth or improve the general welfare (see, Star Wars, crop subsidies, inheritance tax holidays, carried interest deductions for hedge fund managers, etc.).

    But of course, this has nothing to do with spending levels vs revenue, as the poison pill amendment makes clear.

  6. OT to Brett – even before reading your link, I'll guess it was some minor regional Democratic group. Compare that to the RNC running those fake Census style fundraising letters. Come back when it's some Dem group that actually.

    Here is the link "the petition is being operated by a liberal-leaning petition management firm with ties to the Democratic Party."

  7. I was wondering why the stand-alone anti-porn amendment was such a problem. As it turns out, it wasn't stand-alone, as Mark informs us. Thanks for clarifying that. BTW, all news reports I saw did NOT mention the funding-until-xyz element.

  8. No, Brett, I simply understand the value of a worthwhile investment in spite of a deficit. If there are good decisions to be made, we shouldn't be afraid to make them just because a bunch of jackasses loved talking about how great the free-market is but were no where to be found when it came time to pay the bills.

    The government is not a business. Its not meant (in this country or any other) to operate like one. Why is this so hard to understand for the right? Its more than just staying/getting out of the red.

  9. And I understand, Darek, that liberals call EVERYTHING they want to spend money on 'an investment', regardless of whether or not it is. Though even a real investment can be a bad one, as they learned locally with a toll road not nearly enough people are driving on to pay the bonds.

    And the reason that's so hard to understand for the right, is that they DO understand something else: It doesn't MATTER if you call yourself a business or not: Governments are as bound by the laws of economics as any organization, for all that the ability to print money and order people within your country to use it lets them stave off the final reckoning a while. Until it's worse…

    It may be "more than" just staying out of the red, but it is, at a minimum, at least staying out of the red. The economy as a whole can't consume more than it produces, indefinitely. This means there are limits to the extent to which the government, which is part of that economy, and parasitic on it, can do so.

    About this point you will, predictably, point out that Republican office holders don't have a very good record at balancing the budget. True, but Republican office holders aren't the "Right", any more than Democratic office holders are the "Left". And the Tea party is a response to that.

  10. The Tea Party is a response to Dick Armey throwing money at a bunch of people on K Street who would otherwise have to find themselves real jobs

  11. Brett: in recent decades, the Democrats have been the party of fiscal orthodoxy (balancing the budget over the cycle) and Republicans the party of fiscal irresponsibility (Laffer curve, starve-the-beast, Proposition 13, wars paid for with fairy dust). This hasn't changed just because the current Democratic administration has been forced into a large Keynesian countercyclical deficit by the prodigality, delusions and lies of its Republican predecessor. And from my perch on the other side of the Atlantic, the USA would almost certainly be a happier place with substantially higher government civilian spending and taxation: a German equilibrium. This is coming to you anyway, thanks to Medicare.

  12. Brett, if you think this is a bad investment, by all means, shred it apart as one; but until then your point is moot.

    Re: business as government – no. The government's role in the economy is much different than a business – its not worth continuing if you don't understand that.

    "and parasitic on it" – here you tip your greasy hand. Though, I'm sure you'd somehow qualify the recent market speculation which led to a recession as the government's fault.

  13. In the early years of GWB's Presidency, massively increased funding for the NSF was one thing that Bush and the Republican Congress did as part of their spending spree. See the official NSF budget:

    The NSF basic research budget increased more in real (inflation adjusted) dollars over George W. Bush's first term than it did in both of Clinton's terms. That's ignoring biomedical research at the NIH, which as Mark notes has bipartisan support.

    Granted, this was all a part of Bush and the Republicans' profligacy, but I think it destroys Mark's argument that the Republicans just oppose science funding. He's certainly welcome to his opinions about the Republicans, when it comes to the actual value of the NSF budget, we are required to use the same facts.

  14. One truth is that no matter how much Bush and the Republicans increased basic research funding for the NSF, Kleiman and others would insist that they starved research while slamming their fiscal record. That's partisanship for you, as Republican partisans do similar things. But let's at least consider the Same Facts here on this blog, instead of just impressions of hatred.

    Under Bush, NSF funding increased very rapidly to 2004. It was one of the primarily beneficiaries (in percentage terms) of the Keynesian spending spree during that downturn. After 2004, when the economy was looking better and deficit concerns (especially in a recovering economy) increased, NSF funding stagnated. You can make a solid argument that a rapid increase in NSF funding followed by stagnation was worse than steady growth, because researchers grew used to the added funding and had trouble reacting when growth stopped. However, even with the stagnation in funding, at the end of Bush's terms the NSF budget had still grown more, in real terms, than under Clinton:

  15. The fault dear Brutus is not in the stars but in ourselves. That the American public can be so naive and that the Democrats consistently prove themselves incapable of directing the narrative is what allows the GOP to commit such hypocritical acts of political pandering. As I warned a new resident to the US, we are engaged as a nation in a celebration of ignorance that one only can hope will be transitory.

Comments are closed.