News & Politics

Making Monkeys of Us


Written off as a dead duck a month ago by sneering Democrats, George W. Bush is back to being his old cocky self, signs of victory all about. As an indication of confidence, the president spoke enthusiastically last week of endorsing “intelligent design,” the new code phrase for creationism, as an idea that ought to get a fair hearing in American schools. Once regarded as beyond-the-pale kookery, creationism is now just smart politics. It makes the liberals mad, enthuses the Christian-right base, and radically alters public education by furthering the entrance of religious mysticism into education at the expense of rational thought. A CNN poll claims that three-quarters of the American people think we came from God, not monkeys.

Bush successfully passed an energy bill, which doesn’t do much in providing more energy at cheaper costs, but provides a jump start for the nuclear industry and boosts the business of importing liquefied natural gas.

Karl Rove’s name has disappeared—at least temporarily—swept away by news of John Roberts’s appointment, the London subway attacks, and the Discovery shuttle.

The Roberts appointment to the Supreme Court seems assured. Finding out he helped gays win a lawsuit rattled conservatives while showing the Democratic opposition that he could give the right’s most popular enemy a fair shake.

Bush has seemingly converted Capitol Hill’s fiscal conservatives into a group of silly teenagers by lavishing them with pork to take home to their constituents, wildly throwing money around with no concern for the deficit. “If you look at fiscal conservatism these days, it’s in a sorry state,” Arizona Republican congressman Jeff Flake told The Washington Post. “Republicans don’t even pretend any more.”

Bush is master of the war on terror and the dreamboat of the NRA. We have the London police to thank for the new policy now being introduced that gives cops permission to shoot a suspected terrorist in the head on sight without cause. A suspect could be a person walking slowly down a street like a window shopper but looking at the rooftops instead, or someone wearing a bulky coat in summer, or allowing a cell phone charger to dangle out of her knapsack. Chemical stains on clothes or heavy sweating are other signs of a terrorist. When these signs are observed, and the person fails to heed a cop’s warning, she can be shot dead in the head. The Capitol police, who long have had the reputation of being a bunch of armed maniacs, now follow this policy.

Bush’s opponents try to edge him toward leaving Iraq with calls for an exit policy. But there are signs that he’s already decided to get out. General George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, told reporters in late July, “I do believe that if the political process continues to go positively, if the developments with the [Iraqi] security forces continue to go as it is going, I do believe we will still be able to make fairly substantial reductions after these [December] elections, in the spring and summer of next year.” In Britain, Tony Blair’s government is preparing to withdraw.

There are even signs that Republican dissidents are sheepishly coming home. Ohio GOP senator George Voinovich, who agonized and then opposed John Bolton, and was unhappy when Bush gave him a recess appointment as U.N. ambassador, now seeks to embrace Bolton as a Christian act. The senator is sending Bolton a copy of one of his favorite books, The Heart and Soul of Effective Management, by business consultant James F. Hind. It urges corporate executives to take the Christian way and says things like “The corporate culture of Christ was built around concern and care for others, not himself” and “Power can be good or evil, according to the heart of the person who used it. This is management at its best.”

Voinovich was quoted as saying, “I hope that Bolton will read it and put it into practice. I also hope that Bolton will take seriously his role as a public diplomat representing our country.”

Bush and ‘intelligent design’

Last week, in an interview with Texas reporters, Bush answered a question about “intelligent design” by referring obliquely back to his time as governor, saying, “I felt like both sides ought to be taught.” Pressed by a reporter whether both evolution and intelligent design should be taught, Bush indicated yes, adding, “So people can understand what the debate is about.” And later, The New York Times reported, he said, “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”

In Dover, Pennsylvania, next month the issue will come to a head in what some are calling “Scopes 2.” It’s an ACLU court challenge to a school district’s decision to require “intelligent design” ‘s being taught as an alternative to evolution.

As for evolution, Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, argued in an interview last week, “Evolution is extraordinary in that it’s the most robust theory in the history of science. It’s 150 years old and it extended into a world on a molecular level. Darwin had never heard of DNA, but it is precisely what the theory of evolution would have predicted.”

Denied an understanding of evolution, said Henry, “students end up not being able to understand natural phenomena, and if they aren’t able to come to conclusions and theories supported by evidence, they’re going to be at a fantastic disadvantage in a world where using science is the major basis of competition.”

H.L. Mencken referred to William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes monkey trial as a sort of “fundamentalist pope,” and that is the way any half-alert school principal will now see Bush. When requesting public funds, the principal should include lessons on “intelligent design” in his curriculum or face political repercussions at the Department of Education and other government agencies.

The Scopes trial was a made-up event to promote the town of Dayton, Tennessee. Townsmen persuaded John Scopes, a high school biology teacher who taught evolution, to stand in a case designed to test the state’s law banning the teaching of evolution. At the trial famed lawyer Clarence Darrow represented Scopes, while Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate and populist, spoke for the state.

As the trial began, the Bible was entered as evidence. Then, in what The New York Times at the time reported as “the most amazing court scene in Anglo Saxon history,” Darrow called Bryan, a self-declared student of the Bible, to the stand and proceeded to grill him on the meaning of the scriptures, asking question after question: the size of the fish that swallowed Jonah, the date of the great flood, Joshua making the sun stand still, and the temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, among other things. “Do you think the earth was made in six days?” asked Darrow. Which led to this exchange:

Darrow: Have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?

Bryan: No.

Q: You have not?

A: No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.

Q: I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?

A: No.

Q: Don’t you know it would have been converted into a molten mass of matter?

A: You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.

Q: Don’t you believe it?

A: I would want to hear expert testimony on that.

Q: You have never investigated that subject?

A: I don’t think I have ever had the question asked.

Q: Or ever thought of it?

A: I have been too busy on thinks that I thought were of more importance than that.

“Darrow has lost this case,” wrote Mencken at the end of the trial, which gave Bryan a technical victory that was later thrown out. “It was lost long before he came to Dayton. But it seems to me that he has nevertheless performed a great public service by fighting it to a finish and in a perfectly serious way. Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience. Tennessee, challenging him too timorously and too late, now sees its courts converted into camp meetings and its Bill of Rights made a mock of by its sworn officers of the law. There are other States that had better look to their arsenals before the Hun is at their gates.”

Additional reporting: Halley Bondy and Natalie Wittlin

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