Monday, November 08, 2004

November 8, 2004

The I.Q. Gap

We have all heard quite enough handwringing about how the Democrats failed to connect with the so-called “values voters” in Middle America. At least, I’ve heard enough. Let me say something and say it as clearly as I can:

I don’t want the nation to be run by the values voters in Middle America, because I don’t believe most of them are capable of running anything more complicated than a country grange or a church raffle.

OK, that’s a gross generalization and I acknowledge it. But, like all generalizations, there's truth there too. The only question is how much. You decide.

I am reminded of a cartoon depicting a couple attending a teacher/parent conference. The teacher said, “Johnny continues to do very poorly. There are two possible reasons for that. He may not study hard enough, or he’s just dumb.” Of course you will never hear those words out of a teacher’s mouth. (But oh, if you could just read their thoughts!) Sadly, it is often the right answer nonetheless.

But protecting a parent’s feelings is one thing. Turning an entire nation over to dumb and dumber without saying something, is quite another. Taken as a demographic these people are not terribly smart, not well-educated, not well-traveled, not well-read, not deep thinkers. And certainly not qualified to set the course for the most powerful nation on a very complicated Earth.

Look, I know I am taking a mean-ass swipe here at a huge chunk of Americans. But it’s not gratuitous. I would not even go there if it were not for the fact that these “values” folks are poised to impose their will on the other half of us. I know it’s politically incorrect, and maybe even cruel, but someone has to say it.

Who’s Your Creator?
Try this on for size. A recent poll showed that 40% of Americans believe the Genesis fable is literally the way the universe was created by a supreme being. To believe that, these people have to either be ignorant of, or reject everything science has learned over the last hundred years: that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old and that the Earth went through many pre-human epochs before mankind’s ancestors even showed up. They have to reject physical proofs, such as carbon-dating and the entire evolutionary record assembled so far.

It’s one thing for a Christian or Jew to believe that Genesis is a religious fable, and quite another to honestly and openly believe the universe was created in 6 days. Let me remind you that 40% of Americans polled said they believe just that. And they are the people who put George Bush over the top last Tuesday.

Does that bother you? It sure as hell bothers me. How can I feel OK about turning control of the nation’s future over to people who, when asked to choose between science and mythology, proudly chose mythology.

And a lot more than domestic policy is at stake. Here’s an example of values-driven foreign policy:

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., laid out his Christian fundamentalist view of Middle East policy:

"The Bible says that Abram [Abraham] removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar before the Lord. Hebron is in the West Bank. It is at this place where God appeared to Abram [wrong again] and said, 'I am giving you this land.' … This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true."

Out in the hinterland it gets worse where foreign policy and Biblical revelation meet:

"I believe that Jesus can only return when all of the Jews have returned to their land," writes Norbert Lieth, author of 18 Christian books, in the evangelical magazine Midnight Call. Television preachers like Jack Van Impe and John Hagee tell their viewers nightly that the struggle over Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank are prophesy-made-manifest. Stoking those fires and making sure they mature into a major war is key to their belief in the second coming.

Bush is himself one of these people. In 2000 G.W. Bush said that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools since:

"I believe God did create the world. And I think we're finding out more and more and more as to how it actually happened … religion has been around a lot longer than Darwinism.”

Yes, religion has been around longer than Darwinism. But then repression and slavery have been around a lot longer than freedom and democracy, too, the latter being the result of liberalism and enlightenment. Was Bush suggesting that all things new are subordinate to the old and established?

In all fairness, that is not what he meant, not because he thought it out, but because his thinking simply stopped right there. The statement was an example of the kind of shallow and simplistic reasoning common among this much-ballyhooed values-based constituency. Had he offered that reasoning to a freshman logic class, he would have been laughed out of the room. (To which Bush and his followers would surely retort, “See, there go those over-educated liberal elites again, making fun of our values.”)

My purpose here is not to denigrate religious conservatives. They have every right in the world to believe whatever they want, no matter how nonsensical it might be to the rest of us. What they do not have the right to do, though, is impose their values and beliefs on those of us who do not share them.

You Damn Liberal Hypocrite!
At this point I can hear fundamentalists complain:

“You hypocrite. You secular liberals have been imposing your Godless beliefs on us for decades -- like abortion, and not letting our kids pray in school. Now the shoe is on the other foot and you guys are complaining.”

That is the view of most evangelical value voters -- that the pendulum had swung too far to the left and they are simply returning it to the center. I wish that were so. The center is where it was until Ronald Reagan discovered he could goose votes out of Christian fundamentalists by convincing them that they were not only being ignored but also persecuted. (Could the lions be far behind? Or are they now wolves?)

Then came fundamentalist politicians led by Pat Buchanan to define fundamentalist discontent as nothing less than war, a “culture war.” In reality it was a religious values war, and a damn effective one at that. Progressive forces were put on the defensive and have been fighting a largely rear-guard battle ever since.

After two decades of values warfare, the fundamentalists have finally won. And now they want out of the backseat and into the driver's seat.

Before that happens the nation deserves an open, no-holds-barred conversation about this. We know what a nation gets when the not-so-bright-but-terribly-holy gain control of a nation. It’s called Iran. Afghanistan was another disastrous experiment in enforced values. And, the Christian West also has a history of such movements. Just look under “I” in the index and brush up on the values-based Inquisition.

I am not suggesting that anything as extreme is on tap for the U.S. I am also not suggesting it could not happen here. It could. But my goal today is to simply break the ice and get people comfortable talking about what we might call the "IQ Gap," and how we should feel about letting the traditional-values bunch at the controls of the most powerful nation on Earth.

Do we really (and I mean REALLY) want people calling the shots who -- as a demographic -- limit their reading; who view secular news, science, and institutions as suspect, at best; and who use ancient religious texts as their primary decision-making tool?

As I said earlier, the folks who populate Middle America are fine, decent, hardworking, and patriotic Americans. I wish them well. Much of what America became is due to their hard work and dedication to country, community, and family.

But I stop there. I would not let a pipe-fitter run a nuclear power plant. I would not let a bus driver fly passengers on a 747. Why then should I feel OK about letting values voters run America? They are not qualified. They are too -- at least for that job -- too dumb.

There, I said it. So, shoot me for being a liberal snob.

But then think about it, damn it. And, if you have the nerve, talk about it.

JUST IN: Wiscoinsin School Approves Teaching Creationism

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