The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Political Games

Because I'm a ground-breaking and of-the-moment kinda guy, I'll talk about something that everyone else has been talking about since last week, the nomination of Sarah Palin in particular and presidential politics in general.

This evening, my housemate, Scott, wandered in, and was really excited that McCain had chosen a woman as a running mate, he recognized this, correctly, as a historic moment. He is not a McCain supporter, and won't vote for him, but he still thought this was kind of cool. Scott was very clear-eyed about this, though, and recognized it as a political move that was designed to attract more women to the Republican ticket in general, and some of Clinton's supporters in particular.

Surprisingly, he and I were both in agreement that there was nothing particularly shocking or unbalanced about this. Yes, Palin was a political choice, an attempt to make the Republican ticket more unconventional and to pull voters who might otherwise be apathetic or even turned off. But, you know what, Obama's selection of Joe Biden was also a political move aimed at balancing the Democratic ticket and gaining or retaining people who might otherwise have cast their votes elsewhere. McCain is trying to show that he's the maverick that he never really was by putting someone unusual on the ticket, and Obama is trying to retain people concerned about his lack of experience by retaining a long-serving member of congress. In both cases, the candidates are playing the political game, and playing it relatively well. If you are going to damn or praise one party, the same accusations can be pushed in the other direction as well.

I will say this for the selection of Palin - it shows that McCain's got more guts than I had thought. I am impressed.

Unfortunately, I can not be impressed by the particular candidate. I don't care about how she is as a mother, and I wish people would stop talking about that. I am voted for a president and vice-president, not a mom and dad. I don't care about her family woes any more than I cared about Bill Clinton's infidelity - it's not relevant to the job that they are trying to get.

What leaves me concerned about Palin is not her family, not her gender, and not her age - the things that everyone keeps hammering on. What concerns me are her professed positions on issues that should concern us all, but that nobody is talking about.

She is an anti-science politician, being open to the teaching of creationism in public schools (if you are open to teaching religion in a science class as if it had the same factual basis as science, then you're anti-science), and taking politically safe but at-odds-with-scientific-consensus positions as regards human impacts to the environment.

She is opposed to comprehensive sex education. Although it is tempting to point to her own family here, her daughter's situation may well be nothing more than an ironic and unfortunate coincidence, and I wish that people would drop it. Her stance on the issue is what matters, and her stance is ideologically motivated and opposed to good practice.

In line with the last point, she has openly favored positions that owe little to a desire to make good policy and everything to do with either being a member of or at least appealing to a particular brand of religion.

So, I don't like her. I may think McCain is a bit more of a fighter than I had previously thought, I just wish he would make better choices.

Still, that being said, why do I have to go hunting for information on Palin's take on actual positions, while everyone is talking about what amounts to gossip? Why can't we look at how suited she is to the job that she is running for and not look at her family?

Oh, and one last thing. I keep hearing about how nobody would ask a man how he could run for office when he has family strife. This indicates that people clearly don't remember people asking exactly that about John Edwards. The fact of the matter is that people will use anything they can to go at a candidate that they don't like, sexism isn't prompting these questions, politics is.

Oh, and ot be fair, I don't like Biden either, but the reasons are less precise and would take longer to describe.


Chris said...

I agree with you that the media is concentrating on her family too much instead of her positions on the issues, but there are still eight weeks left until the election. I think the family shock will wear off, and she will be hammered on her professional values closer to election time.

Kay said...

I was so inspired by your post that I had to write my own... except that I don't have your oodles of time, so I did a hackneyed job.

Such is life

Melissa said...

I wouldn't consider believing in Creationism as Anti-Science. I would consider it being open minded. I actually believe that both creationism and science coexist and work together. Creationists do have brains and do believe in Science. You're going to have to come up with another name to call them as I respectfully disagree with the one you used. Is that a common term or one you developed yourself?

Anthroslug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthroslug said...

Creationism is a religious stance. It relies upon a belief in the absence of or contrary to evidence, dpending on which form of creationism is being discussed. Some types of creationists may accept evolution and simply hold that god guided it, true. However, the insertion of the supernatural into the equation is still based on something other than evidence, and therefore not science.

So to teach it in a science class as if it were science is to teach that that non-evidential claims are scientific, which they are not. This undermines scientific education, and is, therefore anti-science (and yes, that is my term, though I suspect that others use it or similar terms).

To point this out is different than claiming that someone who believes that a supernatural force guided us is taking an anti-science stance - they may hold the belief as seperate from the scientific discussion. It is also different than claiming that someone who is a creationist is stupid - a claim that I did not make.

Smart people do believe in various different forms of creationism, yes, but that doesn't make it science. So, again, to teach it as if it were science undermines science education.

As for the proposition that believing creationism is being open-minded, this isn't really the case. Being open-minded means that you will consider the evidence put forth before reaching a conclusion. To date, the various forms of creationism have not put forth evidence that stands up to scrutiny (despite the contrary claims of the Discovery Institute, which forwards "intelligent design" for political and not scientific reasons). I have listened, I have read, and I have sought out. I am open-minded by the definition. I have also rejected the proposition for lack of evidence, that doesn't make me closed-minded, it means that I judged the position on its logical merits. If new evidence comes ot light, I'll be happy to re-examine my position.

If someone wishes to believe in a form of creationism, that's their own business, and I make no assumptions about their intelligence based on it. We all reach our conclusions for a variety of reasons, and many factors come into play. However, just as I should not make a judgement about their native intelligence based on whether or not they accept creationism, these people should not automatically assume that someone who does not believe it is "closed-minded" - they should either reserve judgement or ask why the person does not believe it.

Melissa said...

While, I don't quite agree you still, I didn't mean to suggest that you were closed minded. I think that evolutionist are open-minded too. They, at the beginning, sought to challenge the current Creationist ideology. So I wasn't condemning you. I was just disagreeing with you about religion, per usual. As for the rest of the post, I am a little disappointed in McCain's choice as well. I have to be convinced that she has any ability to be VP.

Dave Haaz-Baroque said...

In colloquial terms, Creationism tends to refer to the belief that despite evidence to the contrary, God created all life on this planet simultaneously and in it's present form. People who believe that God may have had a hand in evolution are not Creationists, they subscribe to what is usually referred to as 'Theistic Evolution.'

Don't take an atheist's word for it. Just ask Christian evolutionist Ken Miller if he considers himself a Creationist, and make sure you're standing well away from the 'blast zone'.

I have to give credit where credit's due, I think from a campaign standpoint Palin was an incredibly smart choice for McCain's running mate. I'm not saying she would make a good VP (heavens, no!) or that I agree with any of her standpoints on... well, almost anything... but I'm very much afraid that she has the qualities that might help McCain get elected.

Because the thing that scares me the most about Palin isn't her belief in Creationism, or the fact that she thinks that the war is 'God's work', or the fact that she believes that abstinence-only education works (despite a pregnant teenaged daughter)... The thing that scares me the most about Palin is that when she speaks, she's actually pretty charming. I'm probably going to get shit for this, but in almost any other context but politics, she might even be considered likeable.

Unfortunately, the American population gives a lot of emphasis to a person's 'likeability'. Remember, this is the nation where ARNOLD SWCHARZANEGGER was made a governer. This is the nation that elected George W. partly on the basis that they'd like to have a beer with him.

Palin was a brilliant marketing strategy, and that scares the hell out of me.

Anthroslug said...

I hadn't been thinking about her personal likeability when I wrote the post, Dave, but I think you make a good point. The fact that candidates get slammed for being "elitist" or somehow not the person-next-door is disturbing. Just as I'm not voting for a parent, I'm also not voting for a neighbor. If someone has an elite understanding of geopolitics, that should count in their favor, not against them.

Melissa - no offense taken on my part. But if you look at what I specifically wrote in both the original post and the clarification, my problem is not that she is a creationist, it's with the fact that she has spoken in the past about the desirability of teaching a rleigious position alongside science in a science classroom.

I have known creationists who I would consider to be generally open-minded people. That's not the problem. It's simply one of WHERE she has said creationism should be taught.

Anthroslug said...

Oh, and while you are correct, Dave, that creationism is oftne used ot refer specifically to young-earth creationism, it has also often been broadly used to describe the full gamut of divine-created-life concepts from theistic evolution on out.

mnsc said...

It's very interesting to me that so much emphasis is laid on Palin's choice of vocabulary in discussing the world. "God's Will" has come to be regarded as signpost for wacky religionism, when, in fact, say 30 or 40 years ago, it would have been par for the course and expected out of politicians. Ah, a simpler time. How far we've come.

Is the fact that Obama is a regular church-goer relevant to his qualifications? Does his religion guide his world view? If so, then secularists would do well to level the same criticisms at him. If not, then we might be tempted to talk about hypocrisy and insincerity. Either choice would seem to be unpalatable. So the media quite nicely avoid it. Bias? I leave that to you to determine. I have my own opinions on the matter and would certainly make no claim to objectivity. ;-)

Anthroslug said...

Msnc - you're correct that phrases such as "God's Will" have taken on a very different meaning in recent years, and I have often wondered how much confusion exists amongst older vs. younger politicians as a result of that sort of thing.

But, it seems that I need to point out yet again that I have no problem with Palin belonging to a particular religious group or holding certain beliefs - it's the fact that she has spoken favorably about pushing what are religious beliefs into public policy that bothers me (though, to be fair, her behavior as governor has indicated that these may not be the highest priority to her, it still bothers me to know that it is likely to be an issue). Worrying about a politician's public policy tendencies is quite different than worrying about their personal religious beliefs.

And, yeah, when I see politicians pandering to any group (whether religions, labor unions, businesses, or anything else) it bothers me. That is one of the big reasons that I am not enthusiastic about Obama - he's playing the political game too, complete with pandering, and whether or not he may do good or ill if elected to office, he really is just another politician.

Dave Haaz-Baroque said...

"Does his religion guide his world view? If so, then secularists would do well to level the same criticisms at him."

Actually, one of the things that I really like about Obama is the fact that he states, clearly and unapologetically, that religion will not and should not guide government policy, and that we shouldn't even consider using religion as a basis for governing policies unless the policy makes equally good sense from a secular standpoint.

He goes into this a bit in 'The Audacity of Hope:'

"Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers. What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

Heck, I was bowled over by the fact that a presidential candidate even acknowledged that non-theists exist. Well, to be fair, Bush Sr. acknowledged that we exist - he said that we shouldn't be considered citizens!

Dave Haaz-Baroque said...

"Oh, and while you are correct, Dave, that creationism is oftne used ot refer specifically to young-earth creationism, it has also often been broadly used to describe the full gamut of divine-created-life concepts from theistic evolution on out."

Possibly, although when people say things like 'teach creationism alongside evolution,' or 'teach the controversy and let the kids decide' I think it's safe to presume that they mean the type of creationism that tries (unsuccessfully) to poke holes in evolution. After all, if they just meant 'evolution happened, and god(s) may have had a hand in starting it', well, they wouldn't have too much to argue with regarding the current curriculum. After all, in no biology class do they say that god(s) definitely didn't help evolution along - he/she/they simply aren't mentioned at all as such things aren't proper theory.

Anthroslug said...

Very true, Dave. The politically motivated forms of creationism do vary rather considerably from a simple theistic evolution.

For that matter, there is evidence, in the form od the Discovery Institutes "Wedge Document" (look it up, folks, it's an interesting read, and its history is even more interesting) that "Intelligent Design" is being pushed by them specifically as a way of creating an opening ot allow unquestionably Fundamentalist Christian views to be taught in science classes.