Science was never supposed to be an issue for Bobby Jindal. The Louisiana governor rose through the ranks of the Republican party on the strength of his reputation as a Rhodes Scholar whiz kid, a former Brown pre-med with an eye for the intricacies of health policy. But since taking office, he has been dogged by accusations that he's playing politics with science education. In 2008, Jindal supported a law that makes it easier for biology teachers to "teach the controversy" on the theory of evolution. His stance on the issue has earned him unfavorable attention outside the state. In 2012, when he was briefly floated as a potential vice presidential candidate, Slate dubbed it "Bobby Jindal's science problem."
The image of Jindal as an anti-science hypocrite is largely the product of one man—Zack Kopplin, a 21-year-old history major at Rice University. Kopplin has spent much of the last five years campaigning against Jindal's approach to the teaching of evolution, which Kopplin considers a backdoor invitation to teach creationism. He has testified before the state legislature and has made appearances on Hardball, NPR, and Real Time With Bill Maher (alongside Bernie Sanders). Here he is with Bill Moyers:
Kopplin is Bobby Jindal's biggest troll. He's also the son of a Jindal family friend.
The relationship dates back to the mid-90s. Kopplin's father, Andy Kopplin, is currently the deputy mayor of New Orleans, serving under Democrat Mitch Landrieu. But it was in an earlier job, as chief of staff to former Louisiana Republican Gov. Murphy Foster, that the elder Kopplin became friends with Jindal. In 1996, Foster hired a 24-year-old Jindal to run the state's Department of Health and Hospitals—Jindal's first full-time job in government. "He had two protegés: Gov. Jindal and my father," the younger Kopplin says. "At the time they got along pretty well. My mom now swears that she never really liked Jindal, but they went out to dinner pretty regularly." When Jindal first ran for governor in 2003 (a race he lost in a runoff to Democrat Kathleen Blanco), Kopplin remembers trying to persuade his classmates to support the Republican candidate, although none of them were old enough to vote.
The turning point for Kopplin came in 2008, when the state legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which purported to "help students understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories." But the subtext seemed clear. The bill, which Jindal signed into law, opened a potential backdoor to the teaching of intelligent design by allowing teachers to introduce supplementary materials that hadn't been approved by the state's Department of Education. The law was written by a social conservative organization called the Louisiana Family Forum, in consultation with the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank. The Democratic state senator who introduced the bill explained at the time that its supporters believed that "scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory." Kopplin decided to devote his senior year of high school in Baton Rouge to fighting the new law. He started a petition and got 75 Nobel laureates to sign it. Even Jindal's college genetics teacher was on board.
Kopplin got 75 Nobel laureates to sign a petition opposing Louisiana's science education law. Even Jindal's college genetics teacher was on board.
Jindal, who studied biology at Brown and was considering Harvard Medical School before attending Oxford, has left a bit of a paper trail as to where he really stands. In 1995, while still a student in England, he published an essay in a small Catholic journal, This Rock, attacking atheism. He asserted that there was "much controversy over the fossil evidence for evolution," and he put himself squarely in the camp of intelligent design. "No evolutionary biologist has produced or ever will produce a conclusion with any relevance to the necessity of God," he argued. "At best he can push the location of the supernatural assumption from the origin of life to the origin of matter, energy, and order."
But Kopplin, who attended the same magnet school in Baton Rouge as Jindal's two kids currently do, suspects the governor's support for the law is purely political. "I mean, who knows? I could be totally wrong, and maybe Jindal believes this with his whole heart," Kopplin says. "Which is more why I go back to what his kids are learning. I had their seventh-grade biology teacher at [University Laboratory School] where I went for middle school, and I know she doesn't just teach evolution—she's absolutely obsessive about it. If Jindal actually was a creationist, I think he'd have a much bigger problem with his kids being taught what evolution is."
Case in point: Last September, Jindal told reporters that he wanted his kids to study evolution in school, but he added that he was "not an evolutionary biologist" and emphasized that he thought the decision on what to teach should be up to individual school districts.
Since the initial campaign against the Louisiana Science Education Act, Kopplin has continued to beat the drum on what he views as the erosion of public schools. He has broadened his focus to include the governor's voucher program, which diverts state money to religious schools that question evolution and openly discriminate against students who violate their moral code. (At one such institution, students can be expelled if a family member promotes the "homosexual lifestyle.") And Kopplin has expanded his push to Texas, where he discovered that students at the state's biggest charter school network were being taught that the "sketchy" fossil record undermines the theory of evolution.
Although he still has three credit hours left at Rice, he has continued to keep the pressure on Jindal. He has published six pieces at Slate in just the last seven months, four of which focused on the former family friend. And he expects to continue churning out stories as the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up. Jindal "does bring out my best writing," Kopplin says, "because I sort of know the environment he's around pretty well—I know his kids' biology teachers!"
Update (6/24/2015): Webb has weighed in on his Facebook page, writing that "[t]his is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War." He calls for "mutual respect" and says the flag shouldn't be used "as a political symbol that divides us," but does not take any clear stance on the flag publicly displayed on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. Read the original story below:
By now, every 2016 presidential contender from both parties—those announced, those undeclared—has weighed in on the Confederate flag controversy that erupted after last week's mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, except for one: Democrat Jim Webb.
A former senator from Virginia, Webb has defended the Confederate Army and the rebel flag in the past. But on Monday, when contacted by the Washington Times, he declined to comment on the ongoing controversy over whether the Confederate banner should continue to fly on the grounds of the state Capitol in South Carolina. On Tuesday, Webb's spokesman, Craig Crawford, told Mother Jones in an email that Webb "just has not been on the habit of commenting on news of the day. He's not an official candidate." Webb has previously said he plans to make an official announcement on running for president by the end of June.
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.
On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.
How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.
For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."
But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."
The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.
Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.
Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)
But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:
Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.
Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.
On Sunday, just days after a gunman killed nine African American parishioners at a Charleston church, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued on Meet the Press that presidential candidates should not need to answer questions about the Confederate battle flag:
For those of us running for president, everyone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.
Where could anyone have gotten the impression that the flag is a presidential campaign issue?
Maybe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did everything short of actually firing on Fort Sumter in an effort to court white South Carolina voters during his 2008 presidential campaign:
You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.
Evidently, Huckabee's pandering on the flag issue was deemed a successful strategy. In that same campaign, the New York Timesnoted, an independent group ran radio ads attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for criticizing the Confederate flag, and boasted that "Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage."
The Guardian's Paul Lewis wrote a great profile of Sen. Bernie Sanders' years as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, including excerpts from Sanders' correspondence with foreign heads of state, but let's cut right to the chase: Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem for Bernie Sanders in 1986.