Conservatives Shoot for College, but Hit Students

It’s not worth getting mad about, but it gets me mad anyway. We’re accustomed to seeing conservative pundits spouting off about how terrible college is these days. This week, Victor Davis Hanson takes this college-bashing tradition in a sad new direction in the pages of National Review. Instead of just bashing “college,” Hanson turns his spite on college students themselves.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, conservatives have long been anxious about the moral state of American higher education. As I argue in my book about the history of educational conservatism, we have heard these worries for almost a full century.

In the early 1920s, for example, anti-evolution celebrity William Jennings Bryan railed against trends in American higher education. In one public dispute with University of Wisconsin President Edward Birge, for example, Bryan offered the following memorable proposal. If universities continued to promote amoral ideas such as human evolution, Bryan suggested, they needed to post the following notice:

Our class rooms furnish an arena in which a brutish doctrine tears to pieces the religious faith of young men and young women; parents of the children are cordially invited to witness the spectacle.

Elite schools, Bryan warned, had begun actively to teach “moral laxity and corrosiveness.” Universities needed to warn parents that they no longer taught students right from wrong. This sense of conservative outrage at higher-educational trends was a driving force behind the culture wars of the 1920s.

Darrow and Bryan at Scopes

Attacking science and college…

It wasn’t only Bryan and it wasn’t only evolution. Since the 1920s, conservative intellectuals have voiced their sense that elite universities had gone off the moral rails. Consider the case made by some patriotic conservatives in the 1930s and 1940s against the anti-American direction of the elite higher-educational establishment.

In 1938, for instance, Daniel Doherty of the American Legion denounced elite institutions as mere “propagandists.” Universities such as Columbia had taken to “attacking the existing order and [to] disparagement of old and substantial values.”

These intense antagonistic feelings toward elite universities were widely shared among conservative thinkers in the 1930s. Bertie Forbes, for example, syndicated columnist and founder of Forbes magazine, warned that elite schools were “generally regarded as infested” with subversive and anti-moral professors.

I’m especially sorry to see Hanson join this reactionary tradition because I really like some of his books, especially Wars of the Ancient Greeks. And I’m double sorry to see Hanson take this tradition in a mean-spirited direction. Not only are universities themselves moral cesspools, Hanson warns, but students have ingested enough of the amorality that they themselves have become carriers of the moral infection. As Hanson writes,

The therapeutic mindset preps the student to consider himself a victim of cosmic forces, past and present, despite belonging to the richest, most leisured, and most technologically advanced generation in history. . . . Today’s students often combine the worst traits of bullying and cowardice. . . . The 19-year-old student is suddenly sexually mature, a Bohemian, a cosmopolitês when appetites call — only to revert to Victorian prudery and furor upon discovering that callousness, hurt, and rejection are tragically integral to crude promiscuity and sexual congress without love.

…really? I can’t help but wonder where Hanson is getting his information. There probably some college students out there who embody Hanson’s calumnies. But among the students I work with, the vast majority are hard-working, earnest, thoughtful, open to ambiguity and contradiction, and often self-sacrificing.

It’s one thing to bemoan the intellectual trends that are dominating elite universities. But I wish the conservative college Cassandras would leave the students out of it. As anyone who works with college students knows, they don’t deserve this sort of abuse.

Badger Bound!

When conservative activists have won their battles about public education, how have they won? I’m excited to make my case next Monday at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

bucky badger

Thanks, Bucky. It’s great to be back!

Thanks to an invitation from my grad-school mentor William J. Reese, I’ll be traveling to sunny Madison, Wisconsin this week to talk about the history of conservatism and American education. SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware that I explored this history in my second book, The Other School Reformers (Harvard University Press, 2015).

In that book, I wondered what it has meant to be conservative about education in these United States. It’s not as simple a question as it seems. Some conservatives want one thing, others want another. Most people–whether they consider themselves conservative or not–don’t have crystal-clear ideas about what they want out of schools.

In my talk next week, I’ll share some of that research, but I’ll also expand it to include my more recent findings. In short, I think that conservatives have won NOT by proving their case for conservative values and ideas, but rather by doing something else.

What’s the “something else?” Well, you’ll just have to come to Wisconsin on Monday to find out. Good seats still available: Monday, October 14, 12:00, Education Building room 245.

madison talk flyer

Seeing Red at the Big Red University

If you read the culture-war headlines these days, you’d likely conclude that elite universities are citadels of uncompromising and relentless leftism. News from my alma mater today makes that myth a little more complicated.

madison trump protest_LI

Waitaminit: Who’s that snappy-looking fellow on the big screen?

Here’s the story: So apparently there is a big digital display board on Madison’s campus. They use it to announce exciting upcoming events, such as the best lecture ever to take place, coming soon on October 14. If you look closely, you can see that someone typed in a derogatory reference to President Trump.

Apparently, a keen-eyed campus Trump supporter (or maybe just a vigorous devotee of Madison’s political-speech policy) complained and the message was removed. As a university spokesperson explained,

university policy prohibits the use of university resources for political campaigns. On UW-Madison’s website explaining the policy, “political campaigns” are described as an activity that “can include, among other things, solicitation of campaign contributions, service in furtherance of candidates, political parties and political action committees, and advocating a particular position on a referendum.

So is this proof that campuses are hotbeds of leftist thinking? Well, yeah, sorta. Someone in charge of that message board saw fit to insert an anti-Trump message. On the other hand, this story also shows that such leftist activism is officially quashed immediately, and that people are on the lookout for it. It is not tolerated or winked at. It is not universally agreed upon.

Most important, it shows that there is a scintillating event coming up on campus. If you’re in Madison on Monday, October 14, be sure to come to Education 245 at noon to hear my talk about the ways conservatives won their school battles in the twentieth century!

madison talk flyer

We All Love College

Remember those freaked-out nerds? The ones who told us that conservatives had turned against higher education? It didn’t feel true at the time and new survey results seem to prove it really isn’t. So the next time someone tells you that conservatives don’t like college, you tell em to read these poll results.

pew college gone to the dogs

Have conservatives turned against higher ed?

A couple years ago, SAGLRROILYBYGTH probably remember, the folks at Pew came out with a survey that made people nervous. Since 2015, the Pewsters found, more and more Republicans thought that colleges and universities had a “negative effect on the way things are going in this country.”

At the time, I was skeptical. After all, in my research about conservatism and conservative evangelicals in the twentieth century, I didn’t hear many voices raised against higher ed as a whole. Sure, conservatives have long been anxious about the types of people who control higher ed, especially at the elite schools. But that’s not the same thing. Back then, I proposed a simple follow-up question:

Here’s what I wish I could do: Have the Pewsters add some follow-up questions. When people say they don’t trust colleges, ask them if they want their kids to go to college anyway. And then ask them what would restore their trust in higher education.

Here’s what I think people would say: Even if they don’t trust college, they want their children to attend.

Lucky for us, the pollsters at New America had the same idea. In their new survey of just over 2000 American adults, they asked people if they would recommend college for their “child or close family member.” Guess what? Not much of a surprise to find that most Americans would. Overall, 93% of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed. And Republicans were in full agreement: 92% of them said the same thing.

new america higher ed survey

We ALL love college.

So next time you hear that old chestnut that conservatives don’t like higher ed, show em this graph. Nobody doesn’t like higher ed. Conservatives just don’t trust the “effete corps of impudent snobs” that they think are running elite schools these days.

Have Conservatives Already Won the Culture War?

No. No, no, and no. The argument in today’s Washington Post that American conservatives have a “huge, long-term advantage” in our long-simmering culture wars can only work if we water down our definition of “conservatism” to be entirely meaningless. I’m no conservative, but if I were, I would horrified not encouraged by the implications.

is segregation scriptural

Are conservatives winning? No. They often don’t even want to remember what they used to fight for.

David Byler doesn’t want conservatives to panic. He admits conservatives have lost the long-term battles over the definition of marriage, gender, and proper sexuality. But he thinks that conservatives have a huge—ahem—trump card up their sleeves, one that too many of them don’t recognize. As Byler puts it,

Despite the perception that institutions that conservatives hold in high regard — the military, police, the two-parent nuclear family and religion — have taken hits, the public has a high level of trust and attachment to them. And that faith gives conservatives a huge, long-term advantage.

It doesn’t take much of an expert in the history of American conservatism to see the big problem in this argument. Namely, if conservatism today means only a defense of the military, the police, the family in general and religion in general, then it has become a wispy half-memory of what conservatism meant in the recent past.

After all, not very long ago, American conservatives fought for things (and lost) that might seem to today’s conservatives either a fanciful dream or an embarrassing reminder of their real past.

To pull just a few examples from my research into twentieth-century conservatism, twentieth-century conservatives fought for nothing less than evangelical dominance of the public square, forcible racial hierarchy, and total male dominance of political life.

Example #1: In 1922, Kentucky’s legislature debated the nation’s first anti-evolution bill. The bill would have done far more than ban the teaching of evolution from the state’s public schools and universities. A Senate amendment would have forbidden any public library in the state from owning any book that would

directly or indirectly attack or assail or seek to undermine or weaken or destroy the religious beliefs and convictions of the children of Kentucky.

Example #2: In 1928, the conservative leader of the Daughters of the American Revolution explained her vision of the proper role of women in public life. As she put it without apparent irony,

We need some cheer leaders for America; we need some fearless citizens to sit on the side lines and do a little talking in the interest of this country.

Example #3: Jumping to 1960, fundamentalist stalwart Bob Jones Sr. published his thoughts on race and religion. His sermon, “Is Segregation Scriptural?” offered his thoughts on the dilemma of racism among white conservative evangelicals. Did Jones think segregation was a Christian necessity? Short answer, yes. Why? It was not because non-white people were inferior. It was not because they were any less Christian. Nevertheless, Jones insisted,

Wherever we have the races mixed up in large numbers, we have trouble. . . . God never meant for America to be a melting pot to rub out the line between the nations.

What’s the point? The point is NOT that today’s conservatives secretly want to bring back racial segregation, male-only politics, or evangelical control of public institutions. Some of them might think that such things would Make America Great Again, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that many conservatives really want to return America to those old inequities.

The point, rather, is that conservatives have always fought a rear-guard action against cultural change in the United States. In 1960, some religious conservatives wanted to maintain racial segregation as a God-given right. In 1928, some patriotic conservatives wanted to keep women on the side lines, limited to cheering for good political ideas. In 1922, some conservatives hoped to impose a frank theocratic law on their state, banning any books that might challenge evangelical Protestant ideas.

Today’s conservatives are generally fighting for other things, such as reducing abortion rights, restricting LGBTQ rights, and saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Even on those limited aims, conservatives are losing, just as their predecessors in the twentieth century lost their fights to keep public institutions Christian, to keep politics male, and to keep the races separate.

In order to make a claim that conservatives are winning, David Byler needs to water down conservatism so much that it becomes an awkward stand-in for society as a whole. Yes, conservatives tend to be fonder of the traditional family and of religion in general, but those things are not the province of conservatives alone. Plenty of people who consider themselves progressive also hold family and religion dear. And to say that conservatives are dominant because lots of Americans respect the army and police is almost beyond the need for refutation. Yes, lots of Americans—of all political opinions—respect the army and police. That is not a strength of conservatism but a strength of our society as a whole.

Byler concludes by insisting that “Conservatives have the winning hand. They just don’t know it—and that’s why they might lose.” It’s just not true. Conservatives have always had a losing hand, but they have managed to eke out temporary victories when they have played it well. Long-term conservative victories have come from conservatives’ impressive ability to reshape and reform what it means to be “conservative.”

Stupid Question: Are You “Extremely Proud” to Be an American?

Just in time for the Fourth: New poll results prove that Democrats are a bunch of anti-American no-goodniks. But anyone who knows culture-war history will see that Gallup goofed in the wording of this patriotic question.gallup pride

The poll results won’t really surprise anyone. When asked how proud they are to be Americans—“extremely proud, very proud, moderately proud, only a little proud or not at all proud”—fewer and fewer respondents are saying they are “extremely proud.” Among Democrats, the number has slid to a mere 22%, from a post-9/11 high of 65%.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, asking someone if they are “extremely proud” to be an American doesn’t tell us much. For almost a full century now, this kind of phrase has not been a true measure of one’s love of country, but rather a marker of which side you were on. As I argued in The Other School Reformers, following World War I a certain sort of knee-jerk patriotism became a hallmark of cultural conservatism.

Consider the case of Harold Rugg. Rugg’s textbooks were used by millions of American students. Starting in the late 1930s, however, conservatives in the American Legion and other “patriotic” groups attacked Rugg as sneakily socialist. The books, conservatives argued, were un-American because they questioned America’s role as an unqualifiedly positive force in world history.

As have lefties ever since, Rugg fought back. He insisted that he DID love America, but that children should learn about its faults as well as its virtues. As he put it in 1941, he felt

profound admiration and deep loyalty to the historic American version of the democratic way of life.

He also believed that real American virtues were under attack, not by lefties like him, but by

a few false patriots in our midst who, while mouthing the slogans of Americanism, stamp on the Bill of Rights, destroy tolerant discussion of issues, bear false witness and defame the characters and reputations of other Americans who are sincerely striving to honor and protect the democratic process.

These days, too, asking people if they are “extremely proud” to be American seems to be the wrong question to ask. Consider the flip side: With a few exceptions—such as conservative isolationism in the early 1940s—generally the Left has been the side of “peace.” Since the Vietnam War in particular, saying that you are in favor of “peace” has lined you up with hippies and vegetarianism and Jane Fonda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boring…boring…boring from within.

Of course conservatives are also in favor of “peace.” Who isn’t? But any poll that asked Americans if they were on the side of “peace” would get skewed results. It would find that Democrats apparently favored “peace” more than Republicans.

For this Fourth of July holiday, too, with T-diddy promising “brand-new Sherman tanks” in a Stalin-esque military display, it seems perverse to ask people if they are “extremely proud” to be Americans. Ask us if we love this country. Ask us if we are willing to make sacrifices for the common good. Ask us a million different questions and you’ll get a better answer.

What Do Women Want?

It is a difficult thing for secular, progressive people like me to get through our thick skulls. I’ve been reading the work lately of historians such as Beth Allison Barr, Kristen Kobes Dumez, and Emily Suzanne Johnson about the relationship between conservative religion, conservative politics, and what people used to call “the woman question.” If we needed any reminding, recent poll numbers remind us that conservative women are often MORE conservative than conservative men about the proper public role of women.

So a little true confession: Way back in the 1980s, I would have agreed with my Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. She has insisted that there are two sides in politics today: Trump vs. Women. As Senator Gillibrand put it,

I believe that if President Trump wants a war with America’s women, it’s a war he will have and it is one he will lose.

A younger me would have assumed—as Senator Gillibrand is hoping people will assume—that women in general will have a certain political viewpoint. I would have assumed that women should be in favor of abortion rights, equal pay for women, and other feminist basics. I would have agreed that it just makes sense for women voters to be especially outraged by Trump’s violent talk and anti-feminist politics.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of historical study, however, to realize that there is no natural “woman’s” position in religion or politics.

Certainly, as I found in my research into educational conservatism in the twentieth century, conservative women usually played a leading role in pushing for traditional gender roles and anti-feminist politics. In the early part of the century, leaders of the Daughters of the American Revolution articulated a conservative vision for the proper role of women in society. As DAR leader Grace Brosseau put it in 1928,

We need some cheer leaders for America; we need some fearless citizens to sit on the side lines and do a little talking in the interest of this country.

This notion of women fighting for their right to NOT be leaders themselves has always been difficult for me to comprehend, but it is not an anomaly in American history, politics, and religion. Lots of women have insisted on their proper roles “on the side lines” instead of on the field.

Today’s poll numbers show that some women today still feel the same way. Buried in a 2018 PRRI survey about the differences between men and women in politics we find some important numbers. First, most respondents say they have no gender preference in political candidates. All things being equal, 70% of Americans say they’d vote for the most qualified candidate regardless of gender.

Only 11% say they would prefer a male candidate, but among Republican women, that number jumps to 23%. In fact, more Republican women (23%) than men (14%) are willing to admit to preferring a male candidate.

A younger me would have been astounded by this number. Like a lot of my progressive, secular friends, I used to assume that women would “naturally” avoid religious hierarchies that put them below men. I used to think that women voters would “naturally” want more political rights. It’s just not the case.

Why Religious Joe Biden Won’t Win the Religious Vote

Okay, so VP Biden is religious. Really religious. However, unlike what GOP consultant Rob Stutzman opined recently in the Washington Post, no matter how sincere Democrats are with their Christianity, it just doesn’t matter. Our culture-war history helps explain why.

biden religious

…I’m serious, you guys…

I’m not doubting any of Mr. Stutzman’s evidence for Biden’s profound dedication to his Catholic faith. As Stutzman writes,

Biden, a Roman Catholic, speaks genuinely about how his faith has been a sustaining aspect of his life through family tragedies, including the loss of his son, Beau, to brain cancer. He wears Beau’s rosary around his wrist, describing it as the connection he keeps daily with his late son. He quotes Soren Kierkegaard — “Faith sees best in the dark ” — to explain how he and his wife’s shared belief in God connects him with tens of millions of Americans who rely on a sustaining faith amid myriad challenges.

But Stutzman makes a Jimmy-Carter-sized mistake when he suggests that religious voters might be attracted more to the very religious Biden than to the clown-car Trump. Stutzman is off base, in other words, when he concludes,

What happens to Christian voters when they see a Democratic candidate living an authentic faith juxtaposed with a Republican president just renting some religion? My guess is that many will think twice.

They won’t. And before any of my progressive friends get high and mighty about the hypocrisy involved among conservative Christians, consider the fact that we do it too. As any historian of American conservatism will tell you, for the past fifty years many conservatives—especially the intellectual sorts—have taken pains to refute the charges that the GOP is the party of white racism. None of us “think twice” about believing them.

As I conducted the research for my book about educational conservatism, I was struck time and time again by the insistence of conservative thinkers and activists that they really weren’t racist. It didn’t matter. The charges of racism stuck, for good reason.

Why? As I found in my study of the explosive school controversy in Kanawha County, West Virginia, in the mid-1970s, many white conservatives considered themselves truly anti-racist, for purely conservative reasons.

Conservative protest leader Reverend Avis Hill, for example, liked to tell reporters that his conservative congregation was evenly mixed between whites and blacks. Conservative teacher and activist Karl Priest told me that he intentionally coached an interracial basketball league, devoting untold hours of his free time to fight the scourge of racism.

Local African-American leaders even voiced their agreement with the conservative protesters. Local NAACP leader Ronald English, for example, told one school-board meeting that most African Americans in Kanawha County were “very conservative,” and they agreed with white conservatives that public schools should not include “anti-Christian . . . unpatriotic” material.

Nevertheless, just as Joe Biden won’t make any headway with conservative Christian voters, white conservatives in Kanawha County never managed to convince African Americans to join their protest. And white conservatives in general have never been able to convince anyone but themselves of the sincerity of their anti-racism. The political logic is too obvious to need spelling out, but I’ll do it anyway.

avis hill kanawha protest

Avis Hill: I’m no racist, but…

In Kanawha County in the 1970s, conservative African Americans didn’t buy the anti-racism claims of white conservative protesters. Their reason was clear. In addition to the anti-racist claims of some white conservatives, everyone also heard other white conservatives denouncing the new controversial textbooks as “those n***er books.” And among the conservatives who flocked to Charleston to take the side of the white conservatives, Ed Miller, leader of the West Virginia Ku Klux Klan, promised to bring in thousands of robed and hooded klansmen to join in.

In short, no matter how sincere the anti-racist beliefs of many GOP-voting conservatives–and I believe that many of them are truly sincere about it–American conservatism as a whole has never been able to shake its well-earned image as the party of white racism. As a result, the GOP—for the past fifty years the party of conservatism—has never had much appeal to non-whites.

Similarly, no matter how devout and sincere is the religiosity of Joe Biden, or Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, or Barack Obama, the Democratic party is the party of secularism. Even if conservative religious voters believe in the sincerity of individual Democrats, they will still shy away from the Democratic Party as the party of secularism.

I’d like to share Stutzman’s optimism, but no matter how devout they are, no Democrat is going to attract the support of conservative religious voters.

Why Liberal Evangelicals Aren’t

I’ve been trying to think of one for a long time and I think I’ve finally found an analogy that fits. Let me know: Does this comparison help you understand the difficult pickle in which politically liberal white evangelicals find themselves? Or did you have to grow up watching hockey for it to make sense?

 

It’s an old problem, I know, but I started thinking about it again this week talking to a reporter from Inside Higher Ed about the changes and cuts at Gordon College. As a relatively elite, relatively liberal evangelical college, Gordon has long found itself in a tough position. It has been accused of being too liberal, yet its president has also staked out some relatively conservative positions on LGBTQ issues in recent years.

At Taylor University, too, liberal students and faculty have protested against the school’s welcome of VP Mike Pence. Several dozen students walked out when Pence took the podium at their commencement ceremony. At least one student (at the 1:27 mark in the video above) refused to shake Pence’s hand.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH may recall, I don’t share the optimism of some liberal white evangelicals that we are at the start of a new age in America’s culture wars, one with a vibrant “evangelical left,” one in which evangelical religion frees itself from its pact with conservative politics.

Rather, I think these recent higher-ed dilemmas highlight the ultimate weakness of politically liberal white evangelicalism.

Before I lay out my analogy, I should repeat that I don’t have any skin in this game. I’m no evangelical myself, liberal or otherwise. My personal politics certainly tip toward the progressive, so I’m more in tune with liberal evangelicals than conservative ones, but I myself can’t claim to share in the travails of liberal evangelical friends, though I admire them.

From the bleachers, then, I’ve been wondering why politics has been so difficult for politically liberal evangelicals for the past fifty years. As David Swartz has explored so well, the “evangelical left” has always struggled to gain electoral traction. From Mark Hatfield to Pete Buttigieg, from Jim Wallis to John Alexander, liberal evangelicals have often attracted enthusiastic support, but not huge numbers.

Why?

I think I have finally found an analogy that makes sense. The evangelical left is in a similar position to hockey purists who want to ban fighting.

 

 

Think about it: In many ways, the anti-fighting faction has a strong case. They argue that the sport is being hurt by the constant fighting, that brutish “enforcers” are kept on team rosters just to intimidate the opposition. The anti-fight faction can point to decades of expert opinion on their side, including a strong 1988 anti-fight statement from the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine. The constant fights, experts agree, are killing the game of hockey. At the college and youth levels, fighting has significantly decreased.

Yet fighting retains its revered unofficial status in the NHL. Why?

For one thing, fans love it. For many hockey lovers, fights are the big attraction, not an unfortunate exception. Indeed, I would wager than many hockey fans have no idea that one could separate fighting from hockey. And it’s not only the fans who love it. Players, coaches, advertisers, team owners…all of them consider fights to be a central part of the appeal of professional hockey.

And here’s the kicker: People who love the fights support them with their dollars. People who don’t like the fights have an easy option; they can just stop watching. Why would the governing body of the National Hockey League listen to the anti-fight faction—the group that is likely to leave the sport—instead of the pro-fight faction—the group that is invested for the long haul?

So forgive me if I’m stretching this analogy too far, but I think it helps me understand the ticklish dilemma of politically liberal white evangelicalism. Like the anti-fight hockey faction, liberal evangelicals have a very easy door out, but a very difficult, slippery, obstacle-filled uphill climb to change things.

Why Progressives Should Cheer for Creationism

Good news for science, but bad news for progressive culture warriors: We’ve got a smart conservative voice preaching to the creationist choir. In National Review this week, geneticist Razib Khan makes the obvious case that conservatives should not paint themselves into a science-denial corner.  If conservatives were to listen to Dr. Khan, progressives would be in trouble, but there’s no need for my fellow progressives to fret.

jindal

Why won’t Dr. Khan’s argument get anywhere? Exhibit A:

As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (more news on that front soon), there is no logical reason for evolutionary theory to be so scary to American conservatives. As Dr. Khan sensibly explains,

evolutionary biology is nothing for conservatives to fear, because it is one of the crowning achievements of modern Western civilization. It should be viewed not as an acid gnawing at the bones of civilization, but as a jewel. The science built upon the rock of Charles Darwin’s ideas is a reflection of Western modernity’s commitment to truth as a fundamental value. And many Christians well-versed in evolutionary science find it entirely compatible with their religious beliefs.

Absolutely true. Moreover, Dr. Khan points out a strategic truth that should leave progressives trembling. Namely, if conservatives ever got over their evo-phobia, they would have a powerful new weapon with which to fight culture-war battles. As Khan puts it,

the political implications of evolutionary biology do not favor the Left. Today many on the Left reject the very idea of human nature, to the point of effectively being evolution deniers themselves. They assert that society and values can be restructured at will. That male and female are categories of the mind, rather than of nature. In rejecting evolution, a conservative gives up the most powerful rejoinder to these claims.

Khan hopes to turn the culture-war tables. For example, if conservatives could put together credible arguments against same-sex marriage based on science rather than the Bible, they would have a far stronger political case. After all, almost all American voters revere the idea of science (even if they sometimes define ‘science’ in odd ways), but only a minority care about the Bible.

Moreover, Dr. Khan has history on his side. Historically, evolutionary theory has been used politically to fight for a wide range of political ideologies. Back in the 1920s, for example, it was the politically progressive pro-evolution side that used evolutionary theory to fight for eugenics and “scientific racism.” There is no logical reason–theological or otherwise–why today’s conservatives could not use evolutionary theory to fight for their conservative political beliefs.

However, there is one enormous flaw in Dr. Khan’s argument. Yes, conservatives should embrace evolutionary science. They should turn the idea of ‘evolution’ into a battle field instead of merely retreating from it. But they won’t.

Consider the case of former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal is a smart cookie—Ivy League degree, biology major, Oxford graduate degree…the works. There is no doubt that Governor Jindal understands the scientific power of evolutionary theory. Yet when he was asked about his policy on creationism, Jindal hedged. He hemmed and he hawed and he finally agreed that he wouldn’t want to tell anyone that they should learn about evolutionary theory.

What does any of that have to do with Dr. Khan’s argument? Plenty. Evolutionary theory is a simple no-go for American conservatives. It’s a third rail. Conservative politicians will have no more luck embracing Dr. Khan’s suggestion than progressive ones would have with Larry Summers’ ideas about gender.

So for that reason, progressives should celebrate the political power of creationism. In many ways, the conservative coalition’s addiction to fighting evolutionary theory is one of its greatest weaknesses. Progressives’ only hope is that smart conservatives like Dr. Khan remain lonely voices shouting into the anti-science conservative wind.