Steven Pinker on The Impact of Bush’s War on Science

AlterNet has posted an interview with Steven Pinker regarding the “war on science” conducted by the Bush administration. Here is an excerpt:

JAS: Quite a few people argue that the Bush administration has been especially misleading and meddlesome in distorting the truth about scientific research, suppressing evidence in favor of a political agenda. Do you think it’s true that the Bush administration is more anti-science than previous administrations, or do some of these problems stretch back even farther?

SP: To some extent they go back further. To be honest, I was skeptical of claims that the Bush administration is worse than previous ones. But I have now been turned around, and I see that the accusations are correct, that there is a Republican war on science, and that it does seem unprecedented. I see that in the areas with which I have firsthand familiarity. For issues like sex education and climate, I have had to take the word of the scientists who have been directly involved.

JAS: What changed your mind?

SP: I’ve been personally involved in three issues, and in each case, intervention from the Bush administration has gone against scientific consensus.

The first involved bioethics, where the President’s Council on Bioethics has been packed with cultural conservatives and opponents of biomedical research, with a concerted effort to exaggerate the downside of biomedical research and to play up the fears.

The second is evolution, where Bush himself called for the so-called “controversy” between intelligent design and evolution to be taught in schools, whereas virtually every intelligent scientist believes that there is no such controversy.

The third involves regulation of language on the airwaves, where my book The Stuff of Thought was cited by the solicitor general in a brief to a U.S. Appeals Court on whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to sanction the networks for failing to bleep out fleeting expletives — that is, celebrities such as Cher or Bono or Nicole Richie saying “fucking brilliant” or “they can fuck themselves” during live television broadcasts. And the government cited what I think are bogus considerations about protecting the mental health of children as a rationale for restricting speech on the airwaves. They used my writing to support their case in a way that I felt was deceptive.

JAS: Do you believe that the Bush administration’s actions will have any lasting impact on Americans’ levels of trust in science and scientific institutions?

SP: Yes. For example, the Religious Right and their supporters in the Bush administration argue that scientists are suppressing debate about evolution. Having long ago lost the legal battle to have intelligent design taught in the classrooms, they are now framing the issue as an attempt to “teach the controversy,” therefore putting scientists on the side of appearing to want to suppress controversy.

To the extent that they succeed in framing the debate that way, it would look as if scientists are pushing their own dogma. And that is simply dishonest. Scientists would have no interest in a debate between astronomy and astrology or chemistry and alchemy, simply because you have to draw the line somewhere and impose some barrier to entry of basic scientific credibility before you engage in a debate. But that can be distorted into making it seem as if scientists are as dogmatic as the defenders of religious fundamentalism.

On Loving America

Joel Stein writes on how conservatives “love” America in The Los Angeles Times, arguing that in a sense conservatives do love American more than liberals. This love is in a tribalistic sense, “out of birthplace convenience.”

I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.

The difference is that conservatives think loving one’s country means defending it no matter what. For example, a conservative responds to reports of torture or violations of the Geneva Conventions by attacking those who release such information and justifying the actions, not by considering what America really stands for.

The love for America felt by liberals is a far more meaningful form of love. Liberals love America despite knowing their country has faults, and are willing to work to correct those faults. This is what it takes to have a have and maintain a great country. The blind form of love expressed by conservatives is a pathway towards decadence and destruction of what makes America great.

Liberals love the ideals America was founded upon, and hold our current government to those ideals. This is exactly what the Founding Fathers would have expected of us.

I love American because of the civil liberties which were guaranteed by our Founding Fathers. Conservatives often attack those who defend civil liberties out of a blind love for authority, which is not really the same as loving America.

I love America for its heritage of separation of church and state as promoted by the Founding Fathers when they formed a secular government. While this view is clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers, along with many court decisions, the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. Loving America means respecting such important principles, not attempting to rewrite our history.

I love our free market system which gives everyone the opportunity to achieve wealth and prosperity. Therefore I oppose perversions of this system which conservatives have promoted, such as Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force and the K Street Project.

Liberals who love America responded to the 9/11 attack by seeking bipartisan unity to defend the country and respond to those who attacked us. Republicans instead took advantage of 9/11 as an excuse to pursue their preexisting goals on foreign policy and restriction of civil liberties while promoting a course which led to a weakening of America’s role in the world. For a group which claims to love America, the right has done a remarkable job of undermining both our national security and moral authority in the world.

The love for America felt by liberals, and the principles our country was founded upon, is necessary to preserve our nation as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The tribalistic love for America felt by conservatives would give us the America of McCarthyism. Nixon and Watergate, and the Bush/Cheney years. This would be an American where civil liberties are ignored, the free market is replaced by crony capitalism, and those who disagree are told to either love their version of America or leave it.

The Festivus Airing of Grievances

Festivus, the holiday popularized on an episode of Seinfeld, continues to receive attention. The Miami Herald was among the newspapers noting the event today. A traditional component of the holiday is the airing of grievances at family gatherings.

In past years I  modified the observance on line to include an airing of grievances against political leaders. Last year I posted my grievances against the major presidential candidates of both parties. I had the least grievances against Barack Obama, but the section on him did predict that “in a couple of years I will be writing a number of blog posts disagreeing with some of your actions as president, but things will be far better than if any of your major opponents were to win.”

In previous years my grievances were directed towards George Bush. As this is the last opportunity to do so, and as the grievances remain relevant, I will repost them below. Note that this was originally written when the Republicans controlled Congress with hopes for a Festivus Miracle of a Congress which would hold Bush accountable. Below are my grievances against George Bush as originally written:

Today is Festivus, the nondenominational holiday made famous on Seinfeld. The Festivus celebration includes The Airing of Grievances in which each participant at the Festivus Dinner tells each other all the instances where they disappointed him or her that year. In the spirit of George Lakoff’s “strict father” model for Republican leadership style, for Festivus this year I rant to one and all about all the ways in which George Bush has disappointed me:

George, you twice took an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and you claim to support judges who look to the intentions of its framers. Yet you take executive powers, and the powers of the commander in chief, far beyond what the framers ever intended. Emergency powers are intended to allow for immediate response to a crisis, not to allow for an indefinite expansion of your powers without legislative approval or judicial review.

You failed in the most important duties of your office, protecting the country when under attack. You ignored the warnings about al Qaeda from your predecessor upon taking office. You ignored warnings in your own intelligence briefings that terrorists planned an attack involving hijacked airplanes, and then on the day of the actual attack you sat down to read a book, possibly for the first time in your life. I hope you enjoyed The Pet Goat. Now if you would only read a few books explaining the background to the problems you have been mishandling.

After failing to take action to protect us from an imminent attack, you totally screw up in retaliating against the wrong country. Your failure to settle matters in Afghanistan before attacking Iraq allowed Bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora when he could have been captured.

Who has your foreign policy helped? You sure helped al Qaeda grow, as Saudi and Israeli studies showed that it was opposition to the war which radicalized those fighting American troops. The other big winner has been Iran as you have spread our military too thin to respond to problems beyond Iraq.

You even considered bombing al-Jazeera. Listen, if you really wanted to get rid of a bunch of religious fanatics and political extremists who were using biased news reports to prop up a corrupt government and reduce freedom you should have gone after Fox News. If Pravda had been as effective in deceiving the public as Fox News and the rest of the right wing noise machine is, the Soviet Union would probably still exist.

Then there’s this Medicare plan of yours. Those in Medicaid programs had their prescriptions paid for at negotiated discount prices, but your plan prevents such discounts in the Medicare programs providing a financial windfall to the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the taxpayers. What a great deal for the pharmaceutical companies who donated fortunes to you–plus you gave them a great excuse to eliminate their patient assistance programs. Of course don’t forget the insurance industry, which also makes out great thanks to the subsidies you are providing for Medicare managed care plans–plans which have historically been so inefficient that insurance companies will only get involved if they receive such subsidies, again at taxpayer’s expense.

You sure are great for your friends in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Then there’s the oil companies. How much did they stand to gain if you got away with the ANWR drilling? I’m sure they would have gotten a better deal than the consumers who would have save a whole one cent per gallon at the pump.

Besides undermining our national security and harming the environment, you have run up record deficits to undermine our financial futures while giving huge tax cuts which primarily benefit the rich. You have undermined important parts of the Constitution as you have engaged in illegal surveillance of American citizens, worked to destroy the checks and balances which have so far saved us tyranny, and you have harmed the separation of church and state which is so important to guarantee that everyone can practice (or not practice) religion in the manner they desire.

Your disdain for the democratic process was especially seen in your campaign for reelection. You both avoided contact with all but firm supporters, and avoided discussing any real issues. You were too afraid of a real discussion of the issues, knowing in such a situation you would be rejected, so instead you based your campaign upon distorting the positions and record of your opponent. I don’t think you ever commented on a single position actually held by John Kerry.

You were even so far off the wall as to suggest that intelligent design be taught in schools as an alternative to evolution. At least you aren’t flip flopping this time (which is something you and not John Kerry has been guilty of). Supporting such superstition over science is consistent with your overall disregard for science. Calling intelligent design a valid alternative to evolution to explain the development of life is as nonsensical as promoting the belief that earth quakes occur because the gods are angry as a valid alternative to geology.

Traditionally, at the Festivus dinner we have the The Feats of Strength. This year I propose that we show our strength by working to remove from Congress those who have collaborated with you and replace them with new members who are willing to vote for your censure or impeachment and restore Constitutional rule as intended by the Founding Fathers. You already have the distinction of being the first President to admit to an impeachable offense in your illegal surveillance, and your lying us into war was an even worse crime. Both are certainly more deserving of impeachment than a private sexual affair and creative uses of cigars.

Next year, when we have a Congress willing to take action against you and to reestablish the form of government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, we can call it a Festivus Miracle.

Now, in the spirit of Festivus, I invite you all gather around an aluminum pole to air your grievances or perform a feat of strength.

A Theological Defense of Stem Cell Research

Religious views are not a sufficient justification for public policy, such as restricting government funding of embryonic stem cell research, but should anyone be interested, Frank Cocozzelli has addressed the topic from a theological perspective. He responds to some of the views expressed by Rick Warren.

The Republican Party and Ideas

Late last week an internal Republican National Committee memo leaked out which shows that at least the Republican leadership acknowledges a problem I have been writing about for a while–the lack of ideas being promoted by the party. As Steve Benen points out, admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery. The memo states:

Republicans have grown accustomed to having our party recognized as the “Party of Ideas,” but we must acknowledge that many Americans today believe the party is stale and does not deserve that label. This is not a critique of our principles of a strong national defense, growth-focused economics, constitutionally-limited government, and a defense of traditional values. Rather, it is a reflection that we have not used our principles to provide solutions to the kitchen table concerns of middle-class America.

The Republicans lost because the Democrats were felt to have the better ideas on virtually all issues by a majority of Americans. Republicans found in 2008 that they could no longer win by relying on distorting the views of their opponents and raising meaningless attacks. False claims that Obama planned to redistribute the wealth in a Marxist sense or planned a government takeover of health care no longer fooled the voters. Attacks based upon discredited attacks such as Obama’s connections to William Ayers and Reverend Wright, and appeals to anti-intellectualism from Sarah Palin, were no longer effective. Republicans have become experts at raising McCarthyist style attacks but in the process began to ignore providing actual reasons to vote for them.

After the election The Economist summed up this problem by referring to the Republicans as a Ship of Fools. The economic collapse strengthened the conventional wisdom that the Democratic Party is stronger on economic issues, making most other issues irrelevant in the 2008 election. Even if other issues were considered, they did not work for the Republicans. At one time the Republicans were felt to be stronger on advocating a sound foreign policy. Now Republicans are the party advocating a reckless foreign policy while Democrats have taken the center. Republican denial of science and support for the social policies of the religious right are costing them the support of young voters as well as many affluent and educated Americans who have voted Republican in the past. Many voters no longer see the Republicans as either the party of ideas or of values, and are now voting Democratic based upon both values and self-interest.

The problem for the Republicans is not only that they lack ideas but that they have the wrong ideas. For years the Republican establishment took advantage of votes from the religious right but privately referred to them as the nuts. Now “the nuts” appear to control the party. For a moment it appeared that the Republicans might be turning towards moderation in nominating John McCain, but instead McCain increasingly adopted the positions of the extremists in the party. Republican voters see Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee as their two preferred choices for 2012. Red State has announced a war against Republicans who have not supported Palin. David Frum might be willing to abandon Sarah Palin, but still sees the mindset of Joe the Plumber as the future of the GOP.

The Republicans now face the dilemma that their strongest support comes from the religious right but these views will probably prevent them from being a majority party in states outside of the deep south and a handful of sparsely populated western states. A growing number of principled conservatives and libertarians who do not accept the views of the religious right are increasingly supporting Democratic candidates. There continue to be supporters of other ideas in the part, but their role is becoming increasingly trivial. William Kristol has recently admitted that conservative talk of small government has little relationship to the reality of Republican rule. Perhaps now that they don’t feel obligated to back the policies of George Bush, more Republicans will be consistent in backing civil liberties and restrictions upon the power of government.

It is hard to see any fate for the Republicans other than going the way of the Whigs if they don’t open themselves up to modern thought. A party which includes members who believe in creationism has no place in the twenty-first century. There have been some voices in the Republican Party which has resisted its current extremist tendencies.  Colin Powell recently warned Republicans against listening to Rush Limbaugh. It is also necessary for them to reject the entire fantasy world of conservative talk radio. In recent weeks I’ve also note that some Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christine Todd Whitman, along with columnists such as Kathleen Parker, have taken a more moderate stand than is common in the Republican Party, but I’ve also noted how resistant many Republicans are to moderating their views.

The mind set of the religious right, and why they are unlikely to moderate their views, can be seen in this response to my writings supporting modernization of Republican viewsin this response by Robert Stacy McCain at The American Spectator:

The real question isn’t the influence of Dobson, but rather the influence of God, and if you’re waiting for God to moderate his views, I suspect you’ll be waiting a long time.

I discussed the absurdity of this argument, along with the importance of a secular government as wisely advocated by the Founding Fathers, in this post last week. This concept is an important part of our heritage, and is necessary to allow all to worship, or not worship, as they choose. While this view is clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers, along with many court decisions, the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. Although many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, who had a radically different view of the role of God in human affairs compared to Christianity, many Republicans, including the supposedly moderate John McCain, also falsely claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country.

As I’ve discussed in many previous posts, such as here, religious beliefs do not provide sufficient justification under our system of government for public policy decisions. I’ve also noted that Barack Obama has expressed similar views. This presents the fundamental difference in belief between supporters of modernity and the religious right. The real issue is not one of life style as many liberals live an essentially conservative life style, but a question of whether one believes the power of government should be used to impose life style choices upon others.

As Republicans search for ideas they might look back to promises of Ronald Reagan to get government off our backs. Instead of applying this solely to allowing business to go unregulated, they must reconsider their views on reproductive rights, embryonic stem cell research, end of life decisions as in the Terri Schiavo case, same-sex marriage, and other issues where personal morality should not be regulated by government. Barry Goldwater rejected the religious right and in his later years considered himself a liberal. If Republicans want to provide a viable alternateve to the Democratic Party, the Republicans should follow Barry Goldwater’s lead on this matter and reject the influence of the religious right. They cannot develop and promote good ideas until they face reality and reject the bad ideas which have destroyed their party.

One Rival Too Many For Inauguration Day

Rick Warren is certainly not the person I would have liked to see picked to give the inaugural invocation, as reported by CNN. The Salon War Room reports that the decision was made by The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies but it is hard to believe that Obama, along with Congressional Democrats, did not have a say. Right WIng Watch gives a recap of the reasons Warren should not have been chosen:

…in 2004 Warren declared that marriage, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were “non-negotiable” issues for Christian voters and has admitted that the main difference between himself and James Dobson is a matter of tone.  He criticized Obama’s answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice.  He came out strongly in support of Prop 8, saying “there is no need to change the universal, historical defintion of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population … This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about.” He’s declared that those who do not believe in God should not be allowed to hold public office.

People For The American Way issued this statement:

It is a grave disappointment to learn that pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church’s engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right’s big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.

I’m sure that Warren’s supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.

Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn’t need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good.

Perhaps this decision was made as part of an “appeal to unity.” Damon Linker argues that  this was politically expedient decision in his response to the objections expressed by Andrew Sullivan. Linker writes:

…Obama’s a politician, and the Warren pick is just the latest sign that he’s an exceedingly shrewd one (as Andrew concedes). Warren is beloved by mainstream evangelicals, who have helped him to sell millions of books extolling a fairly anodyne form of American Protestantism. (Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell he is not.) It is in Obama’s interest (and the Democrats’) to peel as many moderate evangelicals away from the GOP as he can. Giving Warren such a prominent (but purely symbolic) place in the inauguration is a politically cost-free way of furthering this partisan agenda. (As for whether having Warren deliver the invocation is an example of “Christianism,” I’d only note that Obama didn’t start the tradition of including prayers in these civic occasions. And his own speech is guaranteed to be more restrained in this regard than others have been.)

Now, Andrew might be right that Obama will not prove to be a champion of gay civil rights (at least when it comes to the issue of marriage). But we can be absolutely sure that no presidential candidate of the current Republican Party would be anything other than a rabid opponent of these rights. And that means: What benefits Obama and the Democrats — and what harms the Republicans — contributes (if perhaps only negatively) to Andrew’s cause. And that should be what counts.

If reaching out to Warren would result in a division of the religious right with many moderate evangelicals suddenly deciding to support Obama and social liberalism this gesture would certainly be worth it. I just do not believe that is going to happen. There is a time for trying to get along with those you disagree with, but there are also times when it is best to marginalize those with extremist beliefs rather than to help provide them credibility.

Those who agree with Warren’s beliefs as summarized above are never going to support the agenda of those of us who supported Obama and desired an end to the rule of the authoritarian right. There is nothing moderate in Warren’s views, even if there are others who are even more extreme. To promote Warren’s views as moderate only allows extremism to continue to be promoted under the guise of mainstream thought.

If there are really true moderates who respect Warren it would still be best to seek their support by means other than associating with someone like Rick Warren. The right wing thrives by demonizing and distorting the views of their opponents with preposterous claims. Their propaganda claims that liberals seek to take away people bibles as well as guns, along with redistributing the wealth, appeasing foreign enemies, and having the government take over health care. Obama has a small opportunity to demonstrate the absurdity of the right wing claims that liberals are hostile to religion by featuring a liberal theologian who respects our heritage of separation of church and state in this role as opposed to a reactionary who opposes everything Obama stands for.

Update: More information on the inaugural plans at The New York Times. Obama’s talking points reported by Sam Stein.

The Republican Reaction Against Modernity

Yesterday I presented an example of how the religious right is resistant to moderating their views and how they reject those who attempt to do so. The mind set of the religious right, and why they are unlikely to ever moderate their views, can be seen in this response by Robert Stacy McCain at The American Spectator:

The real question isn’t the influence of Dobson, but rather the influence of God, and if you’re waiting for God to moderate his views, I suspect you’ll be waiting a long time.

The assumptions behind this comment are rather disturbing in a modern democracy. The basic assumption is that those in the religious right know the actual views of God and therefore have the right to impose these views upon others. Of course even among Christians there are a wide variety of views as to what God really desires. If the Jesus as described in the Bible were to really appear, I believe he would be appalled by the religious right and see this as one of the greatest evils of our society.

Beyond differences of opinion as to the nature of the Christian God, there are other religions with different beliefs. There are also the fundamental questions of whether there is a creator at all, and if so whether we obligated to live under his beliefs. As humans were created with free will it is valid to question whether humans are any more obligated to follow the views of a creator of the universe (assuming such views could ever be established) than a child is obligated to forever follow the views of the parents who created him.

The Founding Fathers recognized the problem of religious groups attempting to impose their views upon others and intentionally created a secular government characterized by separation of church and state. While this view is clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers, along with many court decisions, the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. Although many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, who had a radically different view of the role of God in human affairs compared to Christianity, many Republicans also falsely claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country.

I’ve discussed many times, such as here, how religious beliefs do not provide sufficient justification under our system of government for public policy decisions. I’ve also noted that Barack Obama has expressed similar views. This presents the fundamental difference in belief between supporters of modernity and the religious right, and is argued again today in an exchange between Andrew Sullivan and Peter Suderman. Suderman writes:

…it’s always struck as strange when people argue that Christians have every right to their beliefs, and that those beliefs ought to be firmly respected — but that in politics, those beliefs ought to be kept to oneself. For many Christians, it’s integral to their faith that every part of their life, including their work, be comported in accordance with their religious beliefs. The idea that one ought to turn off or conveniently ignore his or her faith when participating in public life is anathema to many devout believers, and when proponents of a purely secular politics suggest that believers should be able to do that without compromising their faith, they misunderstand the entire nature of religious belief. What the most ardent secularists end up saying is, “I’ll respect your beliefs — provided you never act upon them around me.”

Sullivan debunks this in arguing:

Er, no. You can act upon them all you want. It is when you require others to be governed by laws deduced entirely from your own religious convictions that problems emerge.

What modernity requires is not that you cease living according to your faith, but that you accept that others may differ and that therefore politics requires a form of discourse that is reasonable and accessible to believer and non-believer alike. This religious restraint in politics is critical to the maintenance of liberal democracy, and that is why Christianism is so hostile to modernity, though nowhere near as threatening as Islamism.

Allowing others to be other is what we call modernity. In my view, it is worth defending. And that’s why I think of myself as a conservative rather than as a reactionary. I like the pluralism of modernity; it doesn’t threaten me or my faith. And if one’s faith is dependent on being reinforced in every aspect of other people’s lives, then it is a rather insecure faith, don’t you think?

Christians have the right to live their lives based upon the teachings of their religion. If they believe that something is the actual view of God they are free to live based upon this. They do not have the right to use the power of the state to impose these views (or their interpretations of religion) upon others.

I’ve had several recent posts on the problems faced by the Republican Party due to the control exerted by the religious right. Robert Stacy McCain also commented on one of my earlier posts but appears mistaken about the nature of this objection. He responded to my view that the Republican Party will have trouble winning national elections if tied to the views of the religious right by writing:

That’s just atheistic bigotry, and as political analysis, it’s useless. Republicans did not lose the election because of creationism, and if Democrats want to presume that they now have a permanent majority on such a basis, I predict their majority will be remarkably short-lived.

First of all, this is not “atheistic bigotry.” The fundamentalist views of the religious right are certainly opposed by atheists, but are also opposed by many religious individuals who either do not share their religious views or who realize that government should not be used to impose their religious views upon others. He is also mistaken in thinking that I am either a Democrat (except perhaps by default due to the lack of a viable alternative) or see the fall of the GOP as a favorable development.

A strong two-party system is valuable in a liberal democracy and I see it as unfortunate that we now only have one viable option. In a two-party (or multi-party) system we have both greater opportunity for checks and balances upon the power of government and the opportunity for a greater variety of views to be offered by candidates. This is especially important for those of us whose views do not fit neatly into the traditional views of either major political party.

Rather than incorrectly seeing my writing as gloating by a Democrat who thinks they have achieved a permanent majority, Republicans such as McCain should see this as a warning of the dangers the Republicans now face as educated and affluent voters, along with the young, are decreasingly seeing them as a viable choice. Republicans are amazed that many of us affluent independents are now voting for the party which they argue will tax us more, failing to understand that a party which promotes views such as creationism will not even be considered, regardless of where they stand on other issues.

I wish to see a movement away from religious fundamentalism by the Republican Party both because I desire a second viable choice and because I do not believe Democrats have a guaranteed permanent majority. While I do believe the Republicans will eventually go the way of the Whigs if they do not accept modernization of their views, this can be a slow process. History and progress do not always move in a straight line and the Republicans very will might win some more elections before their inevitable decline. I would much rather see a Republican Party which accepts the modern world be in power than to have a repeat of the Bush years.

The Republicans have been in a slow decline for decades as two negative forces have increasingly gained influence. While for years Republicans would pander to the religious right for votes while laughing them off as nuts, the religious right now dominates the party. For a moment it appeared Republicans might be backing away from this with the nomination of John McCain, but now the views of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee look like the more probable future for the GOP.

While the religious right has increased dominance, other conservative principles have been abandoned in favor of tactics. We have seen the original McCarthyism in the 1950’s followed by a resurgence of McCarthyist techniques by many Republicans. Republican victories in recent years have come more as a result of distorting the views of their opponents than promoting a coherent set of principles of their own. Even William Kristol has recently admitted that conservative talk of small government has little relationship to the reality of Republican rule.

For the most part the Republicans became more concerned about holding and expanding power than promoting principles, leaving the religious right with the only remaining viewpoint which had devoted followers. The religious right found a philosophical vacuum to fill in the GOP, regrettably turning them into a party which will increasingly have difficulty winning outside of the deep south and a handful of sparsely-populated western states. They simply cannot fight the modern world and deny modern science forever and expect to win.

Jon Stewart Takes on Mike Huckabee’s Homophobia

Mike Huckabee seems like such a nice guy that it is sometimes easy to forget what a disaster it would be if he were ever elected president. Sometimes he even sounds reasonable, such as when he criticized others on the religious right who are pushing for school prayer as he doesn’t see this as the role of schools. If we are ever tempted to think he might be tolerable as president, we got a wake up call from his interview with Jon Stewart last night.

Stewart asked Huckabee about his views on social conservatism and gay marriage in the second half of the interview (video above). Stewart was rightly critical of Huckabee’s view that the state should be making a decision as to whether gay individuals should be allowed to marry. Here is a portion of the transcript from Think Progress:

STEWART: Segregation used to be the law until the courts intervened.

HUCK: There’s a big difference between a person being black and a person practicing a lifestyle and engaging in a marital relationship.

STEWART: Okay, actually this is helpful because it gets to the crux of it. … And I’ll tell you this: Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality. And the protections that we have for religion — we protect religion. And talk about a lifestyle choice — that is absolutely a choice. Gay people don’t choose to be gay. At what age did you choose to not be gay?

Huckabee tried to insist that “60 percent of the American population” opposes gay marriage. Stewart interrupted him, calling it a “travesty” that gay Americans have to plead for their civil rights:

HUCKABEE: If the American people are not convinced that we should overturn the definition of marriage, then I would say that those who support the idea of same-sex marriage have a lot of work to do to convince the rest of us. And as I said, 60 percent of the American population has made the decision–

STEWART: You know, you talk about the pro-life movement [abortion] being one of the great shames of our nation. I think if you want number two, I think it’s that: It’s a travesty that people have forced someone who is gay to have to make their case that they deserve the same basic rights as someone else.

There’s also more on this interview at Pam’s House Blend.

The fact that Huckabee supports using government to discriminate against one group of Americans is reason enough not to vote for him, although this would apply to the vast majority of the Republican Party. There are also other concerns about Huckabee, such has his believe in creationism. Last January, when he was a candidate for the Republican nomination, we were warned by scientists that Huckabee’s views on science were “a way of leading our country to ruin.”

War Declared on “War on Christmas”

In recent years the right wing has tried to stir up their followers by claiming there is a War on Christmas. Americans United has declared war against this divisive tactic:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today called on Religious Right leaders and their allies in the media to stop using Christmas as a vehicle for divisiveness.

As in years past, Religious Right groups are using the Christmas holiday to divide Americans and stir up animosity by falsely claiming that there is a “war on Christmas.” Americans United said it is ironic to see these groups using a season dedicated to peace and understanding to foster conflict.

“The best holiday present we could get this year would be for the Religious Right to stop using Christmas as a club to bash others,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The Religious Right is making a mockery of the season with a litany of stunts cheaper than dollar-store wrapping paper.”

An example, Lynn said, is an ongoing controversy in Washington state, where government officials have allowed an atheist group to display a sign promoting non-belief near a Nativity scene in the Legislative Building in Olympia. Local Religious Right leaders and their allies in the media have attacked Gov. Christine Gregoire on the issue.

Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly blasted Gregoire on the air and did so again this week in a column distributed nationwide but O’Reilly is omitting key facts. Gregoire is merely following the law. Courts have ruled repeatedly that if religious groups are given access to government facilities to erect private displays, non-religious groups must be given the same right.

In fact, AU noted, Washington’s policy is in place because a Religious Right legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, sued the state in 2006 on behalf of a resident who wanted to erect a Nativity scene in the building. That right must now be extended to other groups and individuals.

As the holiday season moves forward, AU asked Americans to keep in mind the following:

It is not the job of government to promote religion: Christmas has both secular and religious aspects. Governments at all levels are constitutionally barred from promoting religion. People who want a religious experience at Christmas time would do better to go to a house of worship, not city hall.

Private groups may be permitted to display religious symbols on government property if the property in question is a public forum but that means all groups must be given the same access: The Supreme Court has ruled that private citizens and groups can display religious symbols in areas deemed “public forums.” But this right must be granted to other groups as well, religious and non-religious. The government cannot discriminate against groups just because some people might find their message offensive.

American society is diverse, and we should strive to get along: Religious pluralism has exploded in America. We have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, Wiccans, non-believers and others among our ranks. Christmas ought to be a time for building bridges of understanding. The Religious Right’s divisive campaign and attempt to take rights away from certain groups is counter to American diversity and our constitutional order.

“‘Peace on Earth’ should be more than just a slogan,” Lynn said. “But we’ll never get there if we continue to allow Religious Right groups to exploit Christmas for their own ends. I urge the American people to reject this mean-spirited campaign.”

William Kristol Admits Conservatives Don’t Back Small Government

Last week I looked at the significance of size of government, noting that even a libertarian publication was now acknowledging that small government might not necessarily result in greater freedom. This week William Kristol has an op-ed entitled Small Isn’t Beautiful. This might have been the most honest thing Kristol has ever written as he admits what many have realized for a long time–the GOP does not really support small government. He writes:

…conservatives should think twice before charging into battle against Obama under the banner of “small-government conservatism.” It’s a banner many Republicans and conservatives have rediscovered since the election and have been waving around energetically. Jeb Bush, now considering a Senate run in 2010, even went so far as to tell Politico last month, “There should not be such a thing as a big-government Republican.”

Really? Jeb Bush was a successful and popular conservative governor of Florida, with tax cuts, policy reforms and privatizations of government services to show for his time in office. Still, in his two terms state spending increased over 50 percent — a rate faster than inflation plus population growth. It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.

Five Republicans have won the presidency since 1932: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. Only Reagan was even close to being a small-government conservative. And he campaigned in 1980 more as a tax-cutter and national-defense-builder-upper, and less as a small-government enthusiast in the mold of the man he had supported — and who had lost — in 1964, Barry Goldwater. And Reagan’s record as governor and president wasn’t a particularly government-slashing one.

Even the G.O.P.’s 1994 Contract With America made only vague promises to eliminate the budget deficit, and proposed no specific cuts in government programs. It focused far more on crime, taxes, welfare reform and government reform. Indeed, the “Republican Revolution” of 1995 imploded primarily because of the Republican Congress’s one major small-government-type initiative — the attempt to “cut” (i.e., restrain the growth of) Medicare. George W. Bush seemed to learn the lesson. Prior to his re-election, he proposed and signed into law popular (and, it turned out, successful) legislation, opposed by small-government conservatives, adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

So talk of small government may be music to conservative ears, but it’s not to the public as a whole. This isn’t to say the public is fond of big-government liberalism. It’s just that what’s politically vulnerable about big-government liberalism is more the liberalism than the big government. (Besides, the public knows that government’s not going to shrink much no matter who’s in power.)

Kristol is being surprisingly honest in admitting that the Republicans have not really supported small government in office. However if the Republicans are not the party of small government, what do they stand for? He does give some examples of what he believes conservatives should support, including “constitutional government.” However, just as Republicans have not supported limited government, their record on upholding the Constitution is also weak. Kristol and other conservatives are right to criticize George Bush for supporting big government, but an even more serious problem of the Bush administration has been their lack of respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.

If Conservatives want to claim to be supporters of constitutional government, they shoud have been protesting whenever George Bush and Dick Cheney reduced the checks and balances on Executive power. If conservatives respected the Constitution they would have fought the restrictions in civil liberties in the Patriot Act. If conservatives desired to uphold the Constitution and the beliefs of the Founding Fathers they would have fought against the Bush administration’s efforts to break down separation of church and state, instead of promoting a revisionist history regarding the idea.

There are certainly exceptions as some conservatives have defended civil liberties and opposed the acts of the Bush administration, but they are a small minority and not representative of the direction of the Republican Party. The Republican Party now stands for little more than the policies of the religious right, and is better characterized by their McCarthyist tactics than for holding principles.