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:
One of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's biggest alleged weaknesses in the Republican presidential primary is his less-than-draconian record on immigration. Although Perry has talked a lot about cracking down on undocumented immigrants, he has done little to change Texas' status as a "sanctuary state" and, indeed, he's explicitly rejected the idea of implementing Arizona-style immigration reform. The reason for this is pretty simple: Texas' economic "miracle" is built on on a continued influx of people, as well as a preponderance of low-wage jobs, especially in the housing sector.
That's pragmatic, but today's conservative base isn't looking for pragmatism. So will any of Perry's rivals for the nomination take the bait and attack Perry from the right? Well, here's Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) today in South Carolina:
Bachmann said lax enforcement of immigration laws was a threat to the nation's security. She agreed with a town hall questioner at a Greenville stop that US troops should be redeployed from South Korea to south Texas.
"How do you solve it? You build a barrier, a fence, a wall—whatever you want to call it. You build it," Bachmann said. "As president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border."
The "problem is not our laws on immigration," Bachmann said. "The problem has been in our unwillingness to enforce the laws that are on the books." South Carolina legislators this year passed one of the nation's toughest illegal immigration laws. It goes into effect in December.
What, no alligators? The conservative group Americans for Legal Immigration, for one, concluded that "Michele Bachmann is the first presidential contender of the 2012 race to make border security and illegal immigration a top issue for her campaign."
But without telling anti-immigration groups how to do their job, this doesn't seem quite right. For one, Bachmann hasn't made this a top issue for her campaign; her comments came because she was specifically asked a question about enforcement of immigration laws. Herman Cain, meanwhile, has already made the exact same point, calling for a Great Wall of China-style barrier to be constructed along the southern border. And take a look at this guy:
Hey, that's Rick Perry!
The larger issue here is that every GOP presidential candidate is going to say more or less the exact same thing when it comes to immigration: Secure the border first, and then talk about reform. Enforce the existing laws. Get tough with employers. Etc. Perry's defense of his nonaction in Texas is that it's Washington's fault—which is also his argument about everything else. There are policy differences on immigration between Perry and other members of his party, but I imagine Perry's response will just be to run for B-roll footage of him standing by the border in a big brown jacket. It hasn't failed him yet.