Dim Bulbs

The light in my bedroom blew out the other day, and so I went to the supermarket for a new one.  Perusing the fine print on the packaging of the newfangled, twirly energy-efficient bulb I plucked from the shelf, it was with an even mixture of awe and alarm that I considered the very real possibility that this light bulb could end up lasting longer than I will.

A slightly more high-profile bulb-related news item of recent days came in the form of a study that sought to measure the effect of one’s political ideology on one’s spending decisions.

In one test, each in a group of 210 subjects was given the choice of purchasing either an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb or an old-fashioned incandescent bulb.  The CFL bulb would cost them $1.50 while the incandescent one went for 50 cents; however, the CFL bulb would last about six times longer and yield enormous savings in energy costs along the way.

Among the test subjects who were simply given this information, researchers found that most people made the economically rational decision of selecting the CFL bulb, and that those who self-identified as liberal and conservative did so at roughly the same rate.

However, in a separate test in which a sticker reading “protect the environment” was slapped onto the CFL bulb—with all other factors held constant—self-identified conservatives were less likely than liberals to choose the energy-efficient bulb, opting for the incandescent bulb instead, despite the higher long-term cost.

Long story short:  A disproportionate number of conservatives avoided making an environmentally-friendly purchasing decision precisely because it was environmentally-friendly, even to their own monetary detriment.

The implication of these results—that one’s politics can lead one to behave in irrational, sometimes destructive ways—are handsomely illustrative of a great deal of what always seems to be amiss in Washington, D.C., and what has especially plagued the federal seat of government for much of the Obama era.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously intoned in an interview in the fall of 2010 that “the single most important thing we [Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  Given how swimmingly that worked out, one cannot help but wonder if the party might have better served the country had it focused its energies elsewhere.

Let us deconstruct McConnell’s comment.  What would it mean to ensure the president—any president—is not re-elected?  Presumably, it would necessitate making him look either corrupt, incompetent or simply ineffective.

As the first two are fairly difficult to accomplish externally—they more or less require unforced errors on the president’s part—we are left with rendering the commander-in-chief impotent.  And how does one effect this, if not by standing squarely in the path of every last piece of legislation he proposes, if for no other reason than the fact that he was the one who proposed it?

It is the very definition of acting in bad faith, and to announce it as one’s primary intention in advance is to invite a like response from the opposing team, thereby poisoning the well before the bucket has even been lowered.

This is no way to run a country, and it is no way to conduct one’s daily life.

When Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth landed in movie theaters in 2006, many within the green movement bemoaned the fact that the former vice president had made himself the unofficial spokesperson for the cause of sounding the alarm about climate change.  The fear was that by having a political figure at the forefront, this most dire of global problems would devolve into an asinine political catfight.

So it did, and the price we pay only grows with each passing year.  Even as a fresh report this week showed that 97 percent of global warming studies in the last two decades have concluded that climate change is real and that humans are culpable for it (among the studies that expressed an opinion, that is), recent polling has less than half of the American public sharing this view.

There might be multiple explanations as to why this is the case, but the way that so many right-wingers view the global warming question as purely a left-wing concern, and ipso facto something to be opposed (or denied) at all costs, is probably one of them.

We call these attitudes “knee jerk” reactions, because those who exhibit them are almost always jerks.

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