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[greenyes] Shortsighted

One of my fondest memories in my political development in 1960 was
watching Spencer Tracey in the movie Inherit the Wind slay the forces of
darkeness in that Dayton courtroom, with the Darrow and Mencken characters
verbally slicing and dicing ignorant fundamentalism.

Little did I realize then that our act of showing progressive
superiority was to eventually cut our own throat, when just about 50 years
later Roe v. Wade brought evangelical America out of their churches and into
the political arena on the side of the right wing, which was antithetical to
all those progressive values the populist movement they once belonged to,
had championed.

I don't often agree with the American Enterprise Institute (below), but,
in this case, he is exactly right.

I, and so many others who thought we were so smart, did something
incredibly stupid and self destructive of our deeper values all those long
years ago.

May we learn from those mistakes and start rebuilding a majority
movement today.


WALL STREET JOURNAL - August 5, 2005


When the Lines Were Drawn

Eighty years ago last month, at the trial of John Scopes, the first shots of
the culture war were fired. Scopes's crime? Teaching his high-school biology
class a lesson that was thought to deny the biblical account of human
origins, in violation of Tennessee's new Anti-Evolution Act.

To nobody's surprise, Scopes was found guilty -- he had clearly broken the
law -- but the verdict did little to resolve the difficulties over teaching
evolution in public schools. This year alone, 13 states have introduced
legislation that would require schoolteachers to take a more critical
approach toward evolutionary theory.

If the issues at stake in the Scopes trial seem familiar, so too should the
way they unfolded. As in any good culture-war campaign, much of the
controversy was staged. The law that Scopes broke was a symbolic measure,
signed by a governor who thought it would never be enforced. Indeed, its
leading advocate thought it should have no penalty provision. Scopes himself
was no martyr for the cause of science: Local businessmen had asked him to
stand for a test case, hoping that the publicity might improve the declining
fortunes of Dayton, Tenn. As for the trial, it proved principally a chance
for fundamentalists and the American Civil Liberties Union to duke it out
before a national audience.
Yet the most profound change of all has occurred in American political
culture. At the time of the trial, the nascent progressive movement drew
much of its strength from the perfectionist impulses of evangelical
Protestantism. That alliance began to dissolve at the trial, when two lions
of the American left turned on one another.

Leading Scopes's defense was Clarence Darrow, a champion of progressive
causes and an outspoken agnostic. Among the prosecutors was William Jennings
Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a stalwart
defender of traditional Christianity. The two had long worked together for
social reform, but in Dayton Darrow treated Bryan with contempt. In the
trial's climactic scene, Darrow called Bryan to the stand, where he sneered
at the witness for "insult[ing] every man of science and learning in the
world because he does not believe in your fool religion."

And so the culture war came. For the first time, coastal elites descended on
small-town America, calling its citizens stupid and their beliefs backward.
And though fundamentalism may have looked worse at the time, the longer term
damage was to progressivism; it was at Dayton that the movement began to
lose its popular appeal.

Bryan, after all, was to the left of most Democrats today, but his followers
found that they could not keep company with those who so disdained their
faith. Nowadays, when liberalism's leading strategists wonder what's the
matter with Kansas, they could do worse than to look back to Tennessee --
and to their own caustic dismissive of serious Christians.

Mr. Levenick is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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