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America’s Third-World Politics

CAMBRIDGE – With its presidential election over, the United States can finally take a breather from campaign politics, at least for a while. But an uncomfortable question lingers: How is it possible for the world’s most powerful country and its oldest continuous democracy to exhibit a state of political discourse that is more reminiscent of a failed African state?

Maybe that is too harsh an assessment of Africa’s nascent democracies. If you think I exaggerate, you have not been paying close attention. The pandering to extremist groups, the rejection of science, the outright lies and distortions, and the evasion of the real issues that characterized the most recent election cycle set a new low for democratic politics.

Without question, the worst offenders are America’s Republicans, whose leaders have somehow become enraptured by ideas that are beyond the pale in other advanced countries. Of the party’s dozen presidential candidates, only two (Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) declined to reject scientific evidence concerning global warming and its human causes. But, when pressed on it, Romney was sufficiently uncomfortable about his position that he wobbled on the issue.

The Darwinian theory of evolution has long been a dirty word among Republicans as well. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and an early frontrunner in the Republican primary, called it just a “theory out there,” while Romney himself has had to argue that it is consistent with creationism – the idea that an intelligent force designed the universe and brought it into being.