Texas Governor Rick Perry caused a hulabaloo this week when he revealed to the campaign press what Texans have known for a decade: He's really not that into science. Evolution, he told a 9-year-old New Hampshire boy on Thursday, is just "a theory that's out there," which is why, "in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." That came just one day after Perry revealed that the world's climatologist are engaged in a sweeping conspiracy to manipulate data to "keep the money rolling in."
But the GOP presidential candidate, who once appointed a creationist dentist (and fellow Aggie) to head the State Board of Education, has long been a public opponent of evolution, both in his policies and his rhetoric. As he explained last year, "I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution."
According to Supreme Court, public schools cannot teach creationism as science, and according to the state's most curriculum standards they're not supposed to either—which makes Perry's statement that Texas schools do teach creationism all the more noteworthy. Over at the Texas Observer, Forrest Wilder recounts the governor's history of appointing ... let's say "scientifically-disoriented" officials to scientifically-oriented agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and then offers some personal experience:
Regardless of what the official curriculum is, there are teachers in Texas who do teach creationism. I know, because I had a teacher that did so in my Central Texas high school. She proudly displayed a bumper sticker on her podium that read something like, "Big Bang Theory: God Said 'Bang' and There it Was." Her students picked up on her creationist catch-phrases—"Can't make a chain out of missing links"—and took pity on us in the AP biology class, where evolution was taught as the cornerstone of biology.
Maybe this is what Rick Perry meant when he said "we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." Creationism *is* taught occasionally; it's just that it's not supposed to be.
Penn State University political scientist Eric Plutzer, who helped conduct a 2007 national survey of more than 950 science teachers in 49 states, including Texas, told us in an interview that in any state 10 percent to 20 percent of science teachers are "endorsing creationism in their classrooms, often devoting one to four class hours to creationism over the course of the year."
A synopsis of the survey, published in the Jan. 27, 2011, issue of Science magazine, says a "sizable number of teachers expose their students to all positions — scientific or not."
Plutzer told us: "One thing you can be certain of is that large numbers of public school science teachers in Texas are endorsing creationism."
Right. Chiding Perry on the facts in this case misses the point, because Perry wasn't revealing his ignorance; he was accidentally speaking the truth. Perry knows you can't put creationism in textbooks outright—Kitzmiller v. Dover took care of that—but the education agenda he supported was designed to achieve the same ends through a more roundabout process of enabling teachers to shoot holes in biology or making them so nervous about the subject that they avoid teaching evolution entirely.
The narrative was all ready to go: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2010 re-reelection campaign was supposed to be an old-fashioned brawl between the incumbent governor of nine years and the state's most popular politician, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texas Monthly put the duo on its cover with the tag line, "It's On and It's Gonna Get Ugly." Political junkies stocked up on popcorn.
But it didn't turn out that way. After starting off 30 points down, Perry went on to crush Hutchison in the primary. The senator's attacks on Perry mostly fell flat; instead, the sharpest critiques of the governor came from a third candidate: Debra Medina, a nurse and former Wharton County Republican Party chair, who, with zero name recognition or institutional support, a bare-bones budget, and a whole lot of tea party backing, soared to 20 percent support in the polls.
"I think Paul Burka at Texas Monthly said I'm the only person that's ever been able to get to the right of Rick Perry—which is bizarre in my view because I don't see him as a candidate of the right," Medina says now. "He sells himself on the right, he packages himself on the right, but if you look at the record, he's not conservative by any stretch."
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren has launched an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
Speculation has been mounting for a while now, but on Thursday Elizabeth Warren appears to have made it official: She intends to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012. The Harvard professor and architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a website for her exploratory committee, the likely prelude to a full-scale campaign.
Warren rose to national prominence when President Obama tapped her to run the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the TARP bailout in 2009. When the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an idea that Warren first developed—she was considered the obvious choice to head the agency. Obama tasked Warren with implementing the new agency, but she quickly became a right-wing target and Obama ultimately nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the post.
Brown, who pulled off a stunning upset of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010 to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, is one of the Democrats' biggest 2012 targets. And Warren, with her reputation as an anti-Wall Street crusader, has been floated as a dream candidate since the day Brown was sworn in. As Glen Johnson noted, Warren has already staffed up in advance of a run, and picked up the support of a third-party fundraising outfit based out of Washington.
So can she win? Well, she'll first have to navigate a crowded Democratic primary which includes Newton mayor Setti Warren (no relation), City Year founder Alan Khazei, and (possibly) Rep. Michael Capuano. Brown, for his part, remains quite popular in Massachusetts, although with Obama on the ballot and an opponent who's willing to shake hands outside Fenway Park, that could change.
Earlier this week, Brown previewed his likely line of attack against Warren, noting in a fundraising email this week that "They are so obsessed with winning this seat back that Washington elitists are trying to push aside local Democrat candidates in favor of Professor Warren from Oklahoma." (Warren has lived in Massachusetts for two decades.)
The Miami New-Times says that this letter, from Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to the Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations "might be the dumbest thing ever written on congressional stationery," which is serious charge in a legislative body that also includes Joe Barton:
Courtesy of CAIR
The full context here is that West has been locked in a war of words with CAIR, a group he believes is aiding and abetting the Muslim Brotherhood's efforts to destroy America as we know it. West has asserted that Islam is a "totalitarian theocratic political ideology" and, when confronted by a CAIR spokesman at a town hall meeting this spring, said "Don't try to blow sunshine up my butt." When it was revealed that the gunman in the Norway massacre was an avid fan—like West—of some of America's leading Islamophobes, CAIR wrote to the Congressman to ask him to dissociate himself from folks like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
The one-word reply from West, an Army veteran, was a reference to this incident, immortalized in Band of Brothers:
On the campaign trail in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann's response to the argument that she lacks the experience to run for president has been to turn the argument on its head. The Minnesota congresswoman rattles off her resume: She was a federal tax litigation attorney; she and her husband started "a successful small company"; she fought the establishment in the state Legislature and Congress.
And one more thing: Lest you think she doesn't have the brains to do battle with Obama, she rattles off her degrees. "I'm not only a lawyer, I have a postdoctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary," she told Fox News' Chris Wallace in June. "I work in serious scholarship."
But there was one résumé item that was missing: a Ph.D. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bachmann traveled the state as an education activist, she went by "Dr. Michele Bachmann," even though she had never obtained nor sought the advanced degree that's a prerequisite for the title.
From 1998 through 2003, Bachmann was a leading opponent of a Minnesota curriculum standard called the Profile of Learning. She and her allies believed that it was leading Minnesota toward a state-planned economy; if we weren't careful, totalitarianism (or worse) could be just around the corner. "Government is implementing policies that will lead to poverty, not prosperity, by adopting the failed ideas of a state-planned and managed economy similar to that of the former Soviet Union," she explained in a policy paper she cowrote for an anti-Profile nonprofit called the Maple River Education Coalition (MREC). "The system is based upon a utilitarian worldview that measures human value only in terms of productive capability for the 'best interests of the state.'"
Along with a local education activist named Michael Chapman, she toured the state and the nation to drum up opposition to state and federal education standards. And according to eyewitness accounts and material put out by the group, she picked up an advanced degree along the way.
Mary Cecconi, a Minnesota education lobbyist who handed Bachmann her only defeat in a 1999 Stillwater school board race, recalls seeing the future presidential candidate speak at an area church shortly after that election. "Chapman was supposed to be the headliner, but there was no question that she was the star," she said. "He was supposed to be the researcher. She was supposed to be the one who focused on the legal aspect—actually that was the first time I'd ever heard someone with a J.D. called a 'doctor.'" Bachmann's 2002 anti-Profile film, Guinea Pig Kids, likewise twice identified the then-state senator as "Dr. Michele Bachmann."
And in 2000, when Bachmann knocked off incumbent GOP state Sen. Gary Laidig at the district nominating convention, the MREC fired off a news release repeatedly invoking their candidate's honorarium. "On the first ballot, Dr. Michele Bachmann was endorsed 62% to Laidig's 38%," it read. "Dr. Bachmann herself, who arrived at her convention with no intention of running, was shocked by her victory." (The narrative, promoted by the congresswoman, that she was an unlikely candidate is false—Bachmann had announced her candidacy months earlier and laid the groundwork for the upset by stacking the convention with anti-Profile activists.)
"Dr. Bachmann" might have given the activist a bit more gravitas, but it was not an appropriate title. Bachmann received a J.D.—the standard law school degree—from Oral Roberts University, and an LL.M. in tax law from William & Mary in 1988. The LL.M. does count as a postdoctoral degree, as Bachmann says, because it came after she had received a "terminal degree"—that is, a degree that can't be directly improved upon. But while J.D. (juris doctor) has the word "doctor" in it, it is not accepted practice for J.D.'s to refer to themselves as "Dr."
For basic law school graduates like Bachmann, "'Esquire' is the preferred term," says James Warren, an assistant in the dean's office at UCLA Law School. Nor does doing postdoctoral research bring with it any extra titles. "It's not like you've received another degree—it's like a fellowship," explains Zoe Fonseca-Kelly, chair of the board of directors of the National Postdoctoral Association. Rather, postdocs revert to whatever degree they had previously earned once they've finished their research.
This isn't the only instance of Bachmann exaggerating her résumé. She continues to call herself a "tax attorney" or "tax litigation attorney" even though, according to the state of Minnesota, she is not currently authorized to practice law in the state. In an effort to prove her bipartisan appeal, she has stated that Minnesota Democrats squeezed her out of her old Senate district and put her in a new, liberal-leaning one—but the districts were drawn up by the courts, and her new district actually leaned red.
On occasion, she has also stretched the truth about her foster children (she had 23) to make a political point. In a 2008 interview with Politico, she noted that she was feeling the squeeze from high gas prices because she has such a large family. "Energy will be the big focus right now," she said. "Every weekend now when I go home, I will go to the grocery store, I'll buy food for the family. We have five kids and 23 foster kids that we raise. So I go to the grocery store and buy a lot of food." The catch? She didn't have any foster children in 2008; her permit to take in foster children had expired in 2000 and she had taken in her last child, a teenage girl, in 1998.
Bachmann's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Update: A reader writes in to argue that "Dr." actually is an appropriate term for a J.D. recipient. As it turns out, there's a bit of a debate on this point within the legal community—it is a (begrudgingly) accepted practice in some states and not in others. But the fact that it's technically accepted does not mean anyone uses it. Chief among the reasons lawyers don't use "Dr." is that to most of the public, the terms suggests that you're a medical doctor or a Ph.D.—and therefore conveys a false level of expertise. Bachmann selectively used the title when she talking about education policy, a subject she had studied informally but had no advanced degree in.