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Rep. Doug Wardlow, wacky history, bad math, and the imminent end of the USA

by Eric Ferguson on September 9, 2012 · 2 comments


In this video of State Rep. Doug Wardlow (R-51B, Eagan) speaking at some unnamed location, he has some — interesting — notions to express, like a positively David Bartonesque take on history. At the three minute mark, he starts expounding on ancient Rome. Rome is to ancient history what World War II is to wars. By that I mean World War II is the only war sort of familiar to many people, so all wars are like World War II. Rome is the only kind of familiar ancient empire, so whatever is happening today, it’s just like ancient Rome. Whatever you don’t like, that how Rome fell. So it’s a comparison used by many who know not much about it, into which category I fear Rep. Wardlow belongs. He went on about how Rome prospered when it had a free market, but then it got caught up in trying to sustain a welfare state and debasing its currency and regulating business, and down it went. Um, maybe, but sometimes history is bit more complex than is found in the free market fundamentalist’s handbook, which apparently doesn’t mention Rome conquered a bunch of people and took their stuff. No need for a treatise on ancient Roman history, just making the point that he left out some inconvenient facts, like where the welfare state came from. Why did the people need satisfying with “bread and circuses”? Funny thing that happens when there’s a huge slave population and every wealthy person buys workers instead of employing them: no jobs for the free people who need to work for a living. Strange how conquest and slavery got left out of Wardlow’s, well, we can hardly call it analysis.

Was history all he has ill-informed notions about? Anything more contemporary? Plenty, right after the jump.

Start at 8:40, and he compared the debt ceiling crisis that had just concluded shortly before the video was recorded with the equally recent state government shutdown, which is accurate. They certainly did come from the same place. Less accurately, he said of the crises caused by Republican refusal to compromise, “These were two major skirmishes in the larger battle of ideas”. This is like describing talks between a hostage taker and hostage negotiator as just a “battle of ideas”. For both the congressional Republicans and Wardlow’s fellow legislative Republicans, threatening to cause a lot destruction if they don’t get everything they want is just a debate tactic. Their strength comes from being willing to metaphorically shoot the hostage, not from better arguments.

If there’s any doubt he believes compromise is wrong, keep the video playing, because the next thing he says is that compromise is just a way of enacting a big government agenda. He called arguments for fairness and balance “sophistry”. So compromising with those with whom you disagree is necessarily a loser for Wardlow and his caucus? No wonder they’re so inherently unable to compromise. Wardlow is basically a smart guy, but he hasn’t the maturity to realize compromising is just what grown ups do and how democracies function.

At 17:45, Wardlow went back to the bizarre versions of history. Speaking of the American colonists, he said, “They resisted the absolutism that was sweeping over England in the 18th century.” He got wackier in a moment, but let’s just clear that up first. George I became king in 1714 and turned over much of his power to the cabinet, effectively inventing the constitutional monarchy, which arrangement was continued by George II and George III — yes, that George III. For all his failings, absolutism wasn’t one of them. In other words, Wardlow had it backwards. That wasn’t the only bit of British history he got wrong, but let’s move on the most stupefyingly ignorant thing arguably in the whole video.

The very next words he spoke need to be quoted just to show I’m not mischaracterizing his statement:

And they fought a war of independence in the United States, here, in America, to guarantee that the sacred light of liberty would shine forth and light the path to prosperity for future generations of Americans, even though it would not do so any longer in England.

And a few seconds later, in case there’s doubt that’s what he meant to say,

… and having witnessed the slow erosion of English liberties, and finally the sweeping away of English liberties, in the old country…

Yes, if you ask Rep. Wardlow, liberty was “snuffed out in England” and it’s been a bastion of tyranny where democracy has never been known. Other than following a path of political development very much like our own and becoming one of the earliest democracies just like us. Other than that, you know, Queen Elizabeth II is the absolute dictator. Apparently.

And just for one more reassurance I’m not misunderstanding him, at 20:09 he said, “It [America] is the last truly free society on Earth” Well, that must come as news to the British. And the Canadians. And the French and, well, pretty much every other country in what we call “the free world”, a phrase Rep. Wardlow must find dreadfully confusing.

At 22:50 he said the unfunded liabilities of the federal government are $100 trillion, more than all the money in the world. This seems to be a common talking point among conservatives given I found it multiple places. I can’t be sure of the origin, but it might be a speech by a president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, “Add together the unfunded liabilities from Medicare and Social Security, and it comes to $99.2 trillion over the infinite horizon.” Infinite? He’s projecting literally forever? Yes, I’m using “literally” correctly. It hasn’t occurred to a banker, or to the people who turned his bizarre statement into a talking point, how impossible it is? Maybe they don’t get what “infinite” means. It’s like asking, “How much is X divided by everything in existence?” There has to be some amount of time, and since infinity seems really really long, let’s just shorten to 100 trillion years. Over 100 trillion years, our unfunded liability of $100 trillion is just a dollar a year. I think we can handle that, though I suspect any intelligent life still around to pay it off will be less concerned with unfunded government liabilities and more concerned with the overdue end of the universe. Absurd? No more than Wardlow’s silly talking point.

Even if it were a century, that’s $1 trillion/year, and they did figure in inflation. How they calculated that for infinity I don’t know, but game of them to try. So figuring $1 trillion not in current dollars but inflated dollars, still not that much per year, though that’s not the comparison Wardlow made. He compared a liability stretching into infinity against all the money in the world at the moment. Not all the money in the world over infinity or even over a century, but right now. That’s like refusing to get a mortgage because the amount you pay over 30 years is more than your income this year. That’s not how it works. I can only guess Wardlow knows as little about math and he does about history. Yet he sounds so sure, proving again that certainty and accuracy have no relationship.

Don’t come away thinking there was nothing Wardlow has a grasp on. He seems to have the use of strawman arguments figured out. At 29:30 he said:

Some of our friends on the other side of the debate seem to believe that that Americans aspire simply to be the most comfortable people that ever lived. People who are able to sate their desires at the expense of our very humanity, and the prosperity of future generations.

Who believes that? Did I miss the legislative debates where DFLers stood up to say “Let’s sate our current desires and to hell with the prosperity of future generations.”? Or maybe that’s just how Wardlow honestly comprehends arguments in support of building for the future and against deliberately blowing up the economy.

Really, MNGOP, isn’t it a bit embarrassing that this is what passes for intellectual heft among your current elected officials? DFLers, his challenger is Laurie Halverson. Send her some help.

UPDATE: h/t Mr Math
Bill Prendergast attended an event that appears to be where Wardlow was speaking and he wrote about being the lone liberal blogger.

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