Friday, December 31, 2004

When did the Right become space cadets?
For years it was an article of faith among the right that they were hard-headed realists while the left was a bunch of wooly, cosmic, anti-science space cadets. Every bit of environmental ludditism, faith-based alternative medicine, counter-cultural anti-modernism, and New Age spiritualism was laid on the doorstep of the Left regardless of how non-political it may have been. At least two generations of science fiction fans grew up reading neo-Heinleinist right-wingers, like Jerry Pournelle, to whom conventions like plot and character were only secondary considerations after bashing liberals. However wrong they might have been over the last thirty years, they were at least consistent in demonizing the Left as anti-science and promoting the Right as pro-science.

When did that change?

In a very short period of time (oh, I'd say no more than the last four years, not that four years is significant in any way), the Right has become ruthlessly anti-science. They have even gone so far as to dump scientists into the cabal of the enemy along with liberal arts professors and Hollywood. You could even say that, to the Bush era Right, intelligence and talent are suspect.

For years, leftists have warned that extremist theocrats are on the verge of taking over the Republican Party. Republicans snorted in response that such an idea was ridiculous; the GOP remained the party of the center. Hidden in such a claim was the admission that they felt secure in their ability to manipulate the loyalty of the far right without making any concessions to them. But who, we on the left asked, was manipulating whom?

In the last few months a surprising number of realistic and secular rightists have felt it necessary to write editorials or take to the airwaves attacking evolution in the name of Intelligent Design Creationism. If the issue was simply climate science--which theatens certain business interests, and can be countered with something calling itself science--this wouldn't be surprising. But attacking all of the biological sciences in the name of mythology is something else.

Why now? Though some of these conservatives have shown tendencies in this direction, others have been thoroughly secular in their careers--till now. Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Michael Medved, Rush Limbaugh and the lesser Limbaugh, David are all lining up to swear fealty to religious obscurantism. Is this base opportunism or a sign that the balance of power within the Republican Party has shifted from the rational, business-oriented right to the superstitious, religious right? Have the last moderates given way to the extremists?

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