Sometimes I’ve used this space to be a little hard on Republicans in Congress, but not today. The truth is: I’m chagrined. Something happened recently in the House Appropriations Committee that forced me to take a deep dive into myself. And what I found was some humble pie.
It all started with federal agencies up to no good. The USDA is trying to update school nutrition standards for the first time in 15 years—more green vegetables, less fat, more whole grains, that sort of thing. The FDA wants to stop tobacco companies from selling flavored cigarettes (marketing to kids and the like.) You know, hippy stuff. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP.]
Now, I admit that there was a time when that kind of thing appealed to me. I liked the idea of government operating in a way that reflects a larger set of shared values. Healthier kids? It may sound embarrassing now, but that’s something I used to think I was willing to pay for.
But then, as reported by the Washington Post, Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg stepped in. He smelled a rat. Federal agencies, said Rehberg, were relying too much on “soft science” in coming up with their regulations, instead of the far superior “hard science.” So he introduced language to put a stop to it—quickly approved by the GOP-controlled Appropriations Committee in the House.
What, you may ask, is the difference between soft and hard science? Hard science, Rehberg says, is “perceived as being more scientific.”
As if any more explanation is needed, Rehberg elaborates: “I hate to try and define the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, between a sociologist and a geologist, but there clearly is a difference.”
That’s what hit me like a lightning bolt.
I mean, really. What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? I sure don’t know, and I’m equally sure there’s no way to find out.
And the difference between a sociologist and a geologist? That’s bedeviled great thinkers since the antiquity. (I think a sociologist is some kind of flying saucer and a geologist may have to do with socks, but that’s just a guess, and I blurted it out because I’m panicked.) [See editorial cartoons on energy policy.]
What Rehberg was saying was: Hey everybody, slow it down. We can’t go on making rules like this when we don’t understand the basics. Wheat bread vs. white bread? Green pepper v. Dr. Pepper? Kids should smoke or they shouldn’t? Who knows? The science just isn’t there yet.
Now, there’s an alternative interpretation for all this. I suppose it’s possible that Republicans have concluded that sowing even a little bit of doubt is all the cover they need to pursue a breathtakingly radical agenda. And that, in the current political climate, all it takes to sow a little doubt is some collection of words stuck together to sound like a sentence, even if it adds up to complete and utter nonsense (or, at best, faux complexity—a sense that unresolved questions exist where they really don’t). I guess if you were trying to be scientific about it, you could find support for that theory in other examples, like the GOP argument that we really need not raise the debt ceiling or that their budget won’t ruin Medicare.
Wait, wait. Slow it down. All these so-called words are confusing me.
My kingdom for a geologist! Maybe he can help clear things up.