Whom the Gods Would Destroy, They First Make Mad –Euripides


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    Nothing is more important, in these times, than that we recognize how profoundly pathological today’s Republican Party has become. A column by Paul Krugman today calls our attention to one important dimension of this pathology: what’s going on here is irrational, beyond explanation by calculated self-interest. It’s a kind of collective insanity.

    Consider this. Krugman, in his discussion of the EPA’s recent very valuable decision to regulate mercury emissions, provides this cost-benefit analysis: “the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices.”

    And this relates only to that small piece of the benefits that can be quantified: “E.P.A.’s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.’s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn’t know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.”

    Forget human suffering. Even just in terms of dollars and cents, this is a great bargain. A no-brainer, one might say.

    And how do the Republicans respond to this measure that “will deliver huge benefits at only modest cost”? “[N]aturally, Republicans are furious.” Despite the fantastic bargain, “it’s a deal Republicans very much want to kill.”

    Why? What’s going on here? Here’s Krugman describing how “something remarkable” has happened to the Republican Party:

    “With everything else that has been going on in U.S. politics recently, the G.O.P.’s radical anti-environmental turn hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. But something remarkable has happened on this front. Only a few years ago, it seemed possible to be both a Republican in good standing and a serious environmentalist; during the 2008 campaign John McCain warned of the dangers of global warming and proposed a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Today, however, the party line is that we must not only avoid any new environmental regulations but roll back the protection we already have.

    “And I’m not exaggerating: during the fight over the debt ceiling, Republicans tried to attach riders that, as Time magazine put it, would essentially have blocked the E.P.A. and the Interior Department from doing their jobs…

    “[M]indless opposition to ‘job killing’ regulations is now part of what it means to be a Republican.”

    Such “mindlessness” in a major American political party is indeed “something remarkable.” But we are left with the challenge to figure out what “remark” can be made that captures the heart of this reality.

    I am suggesting that the remark might well be along the lines, “This is madness.”

    Madness is often described in terms of “imbalance,” and surely today’s Republican Party has lost even the concept of “balance.” Politics is about trade-offs. (For that matter, life is a lot about trade-offs.) Costs weighed against benefits. But not for the GOP. They are now possessed by a frame of mind that deals only in absolutes. It’s all or nothing.

    In part, it is those lusts for wealth and power: all or nothing means the winners want it all, and the losers in the struggle for power will get nothing.

    But the mentality has a pathology that goes deeper than sheer selfishness. All or nothing has resulted in a visual field in which so much is exaggerated, and so much is left out, that what’s seen is grossly distorted.

    The capacity to deal with reality in terms of all the competing valid dimensions of value has been lost. The capacity to deal with politics as something other than total war has been lost.

    The party that has been damaging everything it touches for more than a decade now is not only a destructive force, it is also a force in the grip of that kind of destructive force that Euripides captured in that famous line, “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”


    Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  


    To learn more about Andy, please go to his website. You may also follow Andy on Facebook and on Twitter.  


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