A tragicomedy of errors

By CRAIG UNGER  |  November 20, 2007

Hate filled the air, at times evoking the specter of McCarthyism, the hate and fear mongering of Father Coughlin, and even the assault against reason undertaken by the Puritans. Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter expressed her regret that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh “did not go to the New York Times building.” Americans who did not vote for Bush, she said, were “traitors,” her critics, members of the “Treason Lobby.” To Rush Limbaugh, Democrats “had aligned themselves with the enemy” and were “PR spokespeople for Al Qaeda.” To Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, the American Civil Liberties Union were “terrorists” who were almost as dangerous “as Al-Qaeda.” Thanks to the neocons and religious conservatives, the radical right was driving America as never before.

With the Republicans still in control of Congress, Bush’s critics vested their few remaining hopes for retribution in Patrick Fitzgerald, a newly appointed federal prosecutor who had recently taken charge of the Valerie Plame Wilson–CIA leak investigation. But in many respects, it seemed as if the nation had regressed to the era of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Tens of millions of people in the only country that had put a man on the moon, that had unraveled the human genome, now questioned whether evolution was real. A Creation Museum was under construction near Cincinnati, Ohio, to demonstrate that it wasn’t. Tourists to the Grand Canyon were treated to creationist tours assuring them that geologists had been wrong, and that one of America’s greatest wonders had not been formed slowly over millions of years, but was God’s creation dating “to the early part of Noah’s flood.” The Kansas State Board of Education held hearings about redefining the word “science” to remove bias toward “naturalistic” (nontheistic) belief systems. Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum — who believed that states should be able to arrest gay lovers in the privacy of their bedrooms — backed an amendment to allow the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution.

The Bush administration and the religious right declared war on science. Slogans that had once been bumper stickers — JUST A THEORY — became government policy: global warming is a hoax; condoms don’t work; intelligent design is legitimate science. The administration’s initiative to fund AIDS programs in Africa was hailed by the press, but information about the benefits of condoms was removed from government Web sites. The global-warming section of the Environmental Protection Agency was dropped entirely. In deference to the Christian Right, morning-after contraceptive sales were banned, even after having been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. According to Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful, a National Cancer Institute fact sheet was “doctored to suggest that abortion increases breast-cancer risk, even though the American Cancer Society concluded that the best study discounts that.”

And when it came to dealing with the “liberal” judiciary, Pat Robertson sought help from God during a prayer retreat, and the Lord told him, “I will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly, and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith.” Asking his television audience to pray that three liberal Supreme Court justices retire, Robertson said, “I don’t care which three, I mean as long as the three conservatives stay on. . . . There’s six liberals, so it’s up to the Lord.”

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