In Search of a Democratic Rick Perry

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 23, 2011

Debating Kevin Williamson on Rick Perry’s views on evolution, Kevin Drum throws out the following challenge:

. . . Forget about “liberals” generically. Limit yourself to recent Democratic presidential candidates — or, in a pinch, high profile Democratic leaders in general. Can you think of any analogs to widespread Republican disbelief in things like evolution and climate change, which are as firmly fixed in scientific evidence as anything can be?

Challenge accepted:

Vice President Gore, known for his love of science education, refused yesterday to take a clear stand on whether public schools should be required to teach evolution and not creationism.

Gore and the other candidates running for president have been faced with questions about their position on the teaching of evolution after the Aug. 11 decision by the Kansas Board of Education to wipe out evolution from the statewide science curriculum. The vote is the most decisive victory in recent years for creationists, fundamentalist Christians who believe that God created human beings and animals fully formed, as described in Genesis.

When first asked about the Kansas vote, a Gore spokesman seemed to allow for the possibility of teaching creationist science, an option the Supreme Court has ruled out.

“The vice president favors the teaching of evolution in public schools,” Alejandro Cabrera said yesterday in response to a question from a Reuters reporter. “Obviously, that decision should and will be made at the local level, and localities should be free to teach creationism as well.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that schools are not free to teach creationism. In 1987, the court ruled in Edwards v. Aguilar that a Louisiana statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution unless creationist science was taught as well improperly endorses religion.

After checking the 1987 decision, Cabrera adjusted his statement by saying that Gore supports the teaching of creationism only in certain contexts, such as in a religion class–an option that has not been ruled unconstitutional. The vice president, however, declined to criticize the Kansas school board vote, repeating that the decision to teach evolution should be up to local schools.

Prominent scientists felt betrayed by their ally, and detected waffling in Gore’s finely tuned answers.

“What he’s trying to do is carry water on both shoulders,” said Daniel Koshland, former editor of the journal Science and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “It reflects badly on him that he would say something incorrect in order to appease all parts of the population.”

I mean, that’s got to count for something. Right? And while it is an oldie, Theodore White provided us with a goodie regarding Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign, in which he wrote the following in response to a newspaper story:

“The article in Monday’s Atlanta Constitution incorrectly states,” [Carter] wrote in the summer of 1976, “that I do not ‘believe in such biblical accounts as Eve being created from Adam’s rib and other such miracles.’ I have never made any such statement and have no reason to disbelieve Genesis 2:21, 22 or other biblical miracles . . .”

In the event that you are looking for that passage in your own copy of White’s book, it can be found on p. 199, as the only footnote to the page.

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