I have a friend who says that the Religious right's control of the GOP is a myth and a conspiracy theory. That is much harder for me to swallow when I read that John McCain chose someone who the religious right absolutely loves and has been lobbying for for months. Richard Land, James Dobson and the entire Council for National Policy crowd loves this pick. Or that those same religious conservatives were threatening a revolt if McCain chose a moderate.
Steves asked a perfectly reasonable question about addressing ID questions that come up in class, and Palin has clearly presented her answer in this kind of "first amendment context." But I think Palin's response also speaks to broader problems in our political dialogue and the relationship between church and state and knowledge and faith--and even this election. I just read about McCain hiring the same slime merchant who slimed him kind of cemented it. Add that to the Palin VP choice, and you see McCain is returning to the Bush playbook. He is appealing to the same religious base who has, in my opinion, ruined the Republican party. He is appealing to people like Dobson and Richard Land who cared little for torture issues, but everything about abortion and gays. Cared little if the economy struggled, but wanted to make sure that gay people weren't marrying. Cared nothing about programs to clean up the environment, but wanted to make sure that sex ed included no instructions about sex--just abstinence. No teaching kids how to use condoms correctly. That is the base that Palin brings in to play. And I have no clue why Republicans who watched the last 8 years would want to revisit that. In other words, anyone who makes James Dobson happy, should make the Republican party rationals nervous.
Palin's response to the ID question made evolution and science something you have opinions about. How do you feel about evolution? We might as well ask people's opinion on gravity. "Do you feel that gravity is a force or is it something else?" Yet that is where religious conservatives come at science and knowledge. And it isn't just science. Just last week, had a conversation with a very conservative religious person about our history. They had an email about our "godly heritage" and knew for a fact that our country was "founded on Biblical principles." How do they know? This is a smart person, don't get me wrong, but has not read a history book since college, if then. We are a Godly nation because that "feels right" and has to be true. The details of history are irrelevant, and people like me who study the past are wrong. Just as my zoology neighbors are wrong about evolution. Sure, they study it every day of their lives in their labs and experiments. But Sarah Palin and her constituency can tell them they are welcome to their "opinion," but they don't "believe" in evolution.
This has infiltrated so many of our policies. As polar bears swim for their lives in the warming arctic ocean, the people making policy decisions about climate change simply ignored those experts who warned them of global catastrophe. Why? Because of some version of "faith based politics." Sarah Palin doesn't "believe" that global warming is man made. I am not doubting her intelligence, but has she read the studies? Has she looked at the evidence and the models? Or does she simply "not believe" it to be true? How important is her "belief" here? Why do "beliefs" trump studies and scientific models, which might be flawed, but at least are out of the realm of pure "instinct" or what we want to be true. Facts and data should matter, even if what they tell us is limited.
Abstinence only became the law of the land, practically, and has been shown to fail in study after study. Rational people would stop that, but those who base their policies on what they "feel" and "believe" don't. And they haven't. Palin herself advocates abstinence only even though she has a very personal example of it not working. What is worse, many of those taught in abstinence only classes are exposed to stds and dangerous situations. They aren't better off. It actually endangers kids.
This, by the way, is not a shot at their intelligence. I have no doubt that Sarah Palin is a very smart lady. My problem is not with their smarts, but how they understand knowledge. Here in Oklahoma, the same religious legislator who said that gay people were a bigger threat than terrorism, pushed a bill through our state house (governor vetoed it) that might (depending on how it was interpreted) made it illegal for teachers to count a student wrong for answering according to their heart felt beliefs. Can't force a student to learn evolution, if their belief says otherwise. I honestly wonder if there will be a day when I have to somehow address historical concerns that God created the constitution, and if I dissent, I run into trouble. If I challenge basic ideas about American Exceptionalism I would run afoul of those who "believe" that God created our nation. My historical knowledge against their religious "beliefs." In a discussion about religion and theology, we are all in the same boat. But when studying history or science, their beliefs are not terribly relevant.
McCain could have reinvented the Republican party and brought back in the Sarah Eisenhowers, but he chose to bring in the Sarah Palins. He could have pushed the religious radicals out of the party and taken so many from the center (the old Republicans and conservative Democrats) that Obama would have had to run far left to even have a chance, and then he would have aced himself out of the race. The McCain who ran in 2000 had the credibility to openly reject the politics of the far right. But he chose to go to Falwell and beg his forgiveness. He then started his run for the far right, cementing that with the nomination of Sarah Palin. He didn't have to do this. But he chose to do this. And if he wins, the people who took the Republicans to the disaster that was the Bush presidency are right back in it. And those of us who watched with horror, are wondering again, where the rational Republicans are? Karl Rove told Bush after 2000 that the middle didn't matter. All that mattered was the base. Which might be fine for winning an election by a slim margin, but as we have seen, it sucks for governing. One of McCain's campaign people said that issues didn't matter. We are in two wars, facing huge economic issues, but McCain doesn't think that issues matter. It is all about what people "feel" about their candidates. So we can count on the same people who savaged McCain in South Carolina, to savage Obama on the orders of John McCain.
That is why this all matters to me.