Opinion: Power and ignorance corrupt principled governance
In the contest for the dumbest member of Congress — and the competition is fierce — the current winner by three lengths is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
During a subcommittee hearing with the U.S. Forest Service, Gohmert suggested the agency could stop climate change by tweaking the moon’s orbit around the Earth or the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Texans should be worried whether he can grasp the stuff taught in elementary school before making policy decisions. As fourth graders know, the Forest Service can’t just take a chain saw to the laws of astrophysics and alter the orbit of the moon or the Earth. Even if they could, you wouldn’t want them to. It would throw the fine-tuned balance of the solar system’s orbital and gravitational forces out of whack and send Texas and the rest of the planet toward the sun and a fiery death. Had Gohmert paid attention to his own government space agency he’d know that the moon and Earth orbits are not the cause of climate change. As NASA science says, “Earth’s recent warming is primarily due to human activities.”
At least Gohmert had the self-awareness to admit on the floor of the House that people think “I am the dumbest person in Congress,” despite his scoring so well on the SAT exam that “it got me into the honors program at [Texas] A&M.”
It’s clear that attending university is neither a barometer of brainpower nor a vaccine against lunacy. Witness Jeffrey Clark, graduate of Harvard and Georgetown, who used his Department of Justice position to try to overthrow the election on the idiotic notion that Chinese intelligence officers used thermostats in voting machines to heat the count for Biden and freeze the ballots for the former guy.
Then there’s Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician with a degree from Kirksville College in Missouri, who opined that COVID-19 vaccines make people “magnetized. They can put a key on their forehead, it sticks.” The only things sticking to Tenpenny and folks who believe her are ludicrous falsehoods with tragic life-and-death consequences.
Or witness Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) whose mind proved immune to her education at the University of Georgia. Her spiel is dangerously unhinged: Democratic politicians, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, should be executed; the California wildfires were started by Jewish, space-based laser beams; mandates to wear a COVID-protective mask are akin to Hitler forcing Jews to wear a yellow Star-of-David; and the old QAnon standby, that a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic Democrat pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring.
Speaking of which, Greene ought to have QAnon check out Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who appears to be under federal investigation for sex trafficking. The recent Greene-Gaetz America First political tour was a carnival road show — a Big-Lie, anti-vaccination, anti-masking hustle to grab cheap headlines and the GOP’s white nationalist mantle. Missing from Gaetz’s speeches was that Florida has one of the nation’s highest COVID infection, hospitalization and death rates. Spurred by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ callous, anti-vaxx/mask executive orders, Florida suffered almost 50,000 new COVID cases on Aug. 6. Ninety-five percent were unvaccinated. Gaetz went to Florida State, DeSantis to Harvard, but both emerged bovine-dumb about evolutionary biology and deliberately deaf to epidemiologists. Viruses mutate. That’s how they evolve new strains. The Delta variant mutated in and spread from unvaccinated people. And the virus will keep mutating until it runs out of unvaccinated hosts — scientists have already identified a new, virulent Lambda variant. Unlike DeSantis, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison finally realized that laws banning mask mandates, such as one he recently signed, are playing COVID roulette with the health and lives of people. How many infections, hospitalizations, and body counts do we need before this simple fact dawns on other GOP governors and legislatures?
Among members of Congress, 95% have an academic degree, and about half have a law degree. Trouble is, they learned about principles, but then, abruptly, many deep-sixed them. Despite graduating from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and a host of excellent public universities, most current GOP luminaries have had no trouble dumping ethics, morals, science, civics and facts in the raw pursuit and retention of political power. Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinsinger are notable exceptions. Among the dumpers, in addition to DeSantis, Gaetz and Greene, are: the insurrection trio of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Mo Brooks; Kevin McCarthy, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan, Madison Cawthorn, and Andy “it was a normal tourist visit” Clyde; Gov. Greg Abbott; Sen. Ron Johnson; and Kansas’ own Mike Pompeo. They’ve graduated summa cum laude in how to wage war on the truth and how to be complicit in their silence. Their lies about COVID, vaccination and masking are killing people. Their Big Lie about the election is killing democracy.
— Leonard Krishtalka is director emeritus of the Biodiversity Institute and professor emeritus at the University of Kansas.