Commentary on the so-called Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design Debate and Right-Wing nuttery in general - and please ignore the typos (I make lots!)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Swiftboating a Bush Appointee

Phyllis Schlafly, of Eagle Forum fame, has written an article on the recent decision in Dover, Pennsylvania, regarding the hamhanded attempt by a religious conservative school board majority (now voted out of office) to require biology teachers to "teach the controversy" about evolution and 'supplement' the curriculum with creationist propaganda. In this article, she lambastes the federal judge, John E. Jones III, for his ruling.

In what most will recognize as little more than a smear campaign against the judge, not to mention a distorted reporting of the facts, Schlafly engages in some all-too-common and decidedly dishonest tactics in her Swiftboating* of this Bush appointee. The dishonesty relied upon by Schlafly can clearly be seen by reading there actual decision in the case (linked above) and comparing it to Schalfly's polemic.
Schlafly's piece is characteristically demolished and her dishonesty laid bare by Ed Brayton, but I will discuss some of the more egregious distortions below, which start in the opening paragraph:
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Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

So, what exactly is Schlafly indicating here? Does she really believe that a federal judge should base his or her decisions upon what he or she thinks the core constituency of the President that appointed them might want? And NOT on their interpretation of the law? Perhaps someone should point out to Mrs.Schlafly that this is the United States of America, whose leaders and representatives are elected and are required to abide by the laws of the land, not some Third World pseudodemocracy ruled by a junta.


Jones issued his ruling, a 139-page rant against anyone who objects to force-feeding public schoolchildren with the theory of evolution, on Dec. 20. He accused parents and school board members of "breathtaking inanity" for wanting their children to learn that "intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Charles Darwin's view."

Amazing. Simply amazing. Does Schlafly and her ilk consider teaching children about the theory that germs cause disease to be force-feeding as well?
The real amazing bit of clear dishonesty is in the second sentence. Jones did not accuse parents and schoolboard members of any such thing. Here, let us see just who Jones accused of "breathtaking inanity" and why:


"Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

One will notice that Jones was referring specifically to the School Board's decision, and was not referring to parents at all. So, why would Schlafly indicate that he had? I think the answer is clear - what better way to outrage conservative parents than to claim that an "activist", "Darwinist" judge had insulted them? Of note is Jones' prediction that he will be referred to as an activist judge (which is conservativespeak for any judge that does not rule the way they want them to) - the anti-'Darwinists' did not disappoint! (see this for a brief overview)
Phyllis goes on:


Jones exhibited his bias for judicial activism with public remarks that should have caused his recusal. Signaling that he would exploit the dispute, Jones boasted, "It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history. ... Even Charles Darwin's great grandson is attending the trial."

Is that what Jones really did? Did he really display his penchant for activism and imply that he would exploit this case for his personal benefit? See for yourself.
Here - allow me:

He was assigned to Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District through a random placement process, as are all judges.

"It just so happened that I was next in line," Judge Jones said.

The trial has endured over four weeks and has proven itself to be an important part of the ongoing battle between Church and State.

"It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history," Judge Jones said.

"Even Charles Darwin's great grandson is attending the trial."

"It's hard to say [how this case will be remembered]," Judge Jones said. "History generally gets written a long time after the fact. We'll know better in ten or 20 years. All we can do now is decided as according to the law and legal precedent and hope for the best."

Funny how reading what people actually said portrays their sentiments in a quite different light than does relying on the ideologically driven out of context butchery that is so often found in anti-science, anti-evolution, conservative rants. Again, why would Schlafly feel the need to so dishonestly represent Jones? Is it because her position is so weak that the only recourse is to engage in Swiftboating?

The New York Times reported that Jones was awe-struck that his case appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, and that he even bragged to his wife about it before buying a copy.

Imagine that - a guy that was a virtual unknown 'brags' and is 'awestruck' that his case is on the cover of an internationally recognized magazine. Oh, the shame of it all! Clearly, Jones is an activist judge and an egomaniac! Swiftboats away!

He smeared "fundamentalists," impugned the integrity of those who disagree with him by accusing them of lying and issued an unnecessary permanent injunction.

Really, Phyllis? It would seem that Mrs.Schafly did not bother to read the ruling, or the trial transcripts.
Had she done so, she might actually understand what Jones was referring to. Heck - she could have read some of the articles on the case that are widely available for free.

Jones said that ninth-graders were referred to (although not assigned) a book called "Of Pandas and People" by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon ($24.95; 1993) published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, "a religious, Christian organization." Using guilt-by-association reasoning, he implied that books published by religious groups, or by people motivated by religious convictions, can and should be banned from public school.

Actually, Jones used real-life reasoning. You see Mrs.Schlafly, the court was presented with an earlier version of that "text" in which the word 'creationissm"or derivitives thereof appeared liberally. Then, he was shown the version available to Dover students, and wherever the word 'creationsim" or its derivitives used to appear, the phrase 'Intelligent Design' could now be found. It was not guilt by association, it was guilt by evidence.

He denigrated several officials because they "staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public."

Um, Phyllis? Again, the actual words of the judge:

"It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

He 'denigrated' these individuals for LYING and engaging in dishonest practices. Just like what Mrs.Schlafly is doing here. Schlafly ends her bizarro propaganda piece with this gem:

His decision will ultimately hurt the evolutionist cause because it shows that the evolutionists cannot defend their beliefs on the merits; they can only survive by censoring alternate views.

Again, a read - even a quick one - of the decision or the transcripts would show that the 'alternate views' espoused by the former board members and Discovery Institute luminaries and defense witnesses Michael Behe and Scott Minnich (and others) are not legitimate scientific views and therefore should not be in a science class.

Reading Schlafly's rant, one comes away with the impression that Jones must be some liberal Clinton appointee with a history of (supposedly) ignoring the Constitution and legislating from the bench. Not so.
It is a shame - but not unexpected - that one of the most important women of the 20th century** would feel the need to resort to such obvious and most likely purposeful misrepresentation, distortion, fabrication, and character assassination to prop up her cause.


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*Here, I use the term 'Swiftboating' in the appropriate way - to describe a personal attack on an individual for ideological reasons that is based on, at best, half-truths and relies on emotional rhetoric, victim blaming, vilification, etc. to gain support from an audience that is not skeptical of the often outlandish claims being made.
**Her Eagle Forum bio states, "Phyllis Schlafly was named one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century by the Ladies' Home Journal."

1 comment:

Robert Rapier said...

One thing I have noticed about all of these conservatives who have commented negatively on the decision is that none of them have apparently read it. You get commentary like this in which Shlafly is apparently oblivious to the actual content of the decision, yet feels compelled to give her opinion. Looks like she is cut from the same cloth as those who committed perjury during the trial.

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