Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Criticisms of Palin; Praises of Obama

David D. Friedman

Gov. Sarah Palin. Photo: Roger H Goun

Photo: Roger H Goun

Of course, the discussion is currently focused harshly on Sarah Palin’s daughter and her pregnancy, (though I think that such scrutiny is silly). But recently, Friedman took a crack at some of the lenses through which we view both candidates on his blog, Ideas.

And by the way, does it seem odd to anyone else that the two older men involved are out of the limelight?

Obama and Community Organizing

David D. Friedman

Having said some positive things about Obama in the past, I thought it worth noting one negative point–not so much about Obama as about an argument offered for Obama. His supporters interpret his decision to go into community organizing instead of joining a law firm as evidence of his good moral character. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. For a young man aiming at a career in politics, especially a black man in an urban setting, community organizing is an investment, a way of building up contacts and other resources that will be useful at the next stage of that career.

To be fair, I should also say that considering Obama’s behavior as that of an aspiring politician weakens the argument being made by some on the right about his past association with people on the left, in particular William Ayers, an unrepentant ex-Weatherman. The Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, which is where I grew up, is the sort of place where an ex-Weatherman can easily enough be a prominent figure. You don’t start a career in politics by going out of your way to refuse to shake the hands of people who lots of your constituents respect, or even refusing to sit with them on a board of directors or share a platform with them–not, at least, unless you are aiming at a deliberate political gesture. And making a point of how hostile you are to left wing radicals, while it might be useful for a Democrat running for President, would not be prudent for a Democrat seeking political support in Hyde Park.

After the jump: Sarah Palin – Home Schooler? Creationist?

David D. Friedman

In a recent Usenet discussion a poster asserted that Palin homeschooled her children in young earth creationism. When I asked him what his source was he retracted the claim, while adding that he still believed it was true, although he didn’t have the evidence so support it.

Using Google, I found lots of assertions that Palin home schools, both by posters who approve and by ones who disapprove. But the only evidence I could find was one post to a blog, in which a commenter asserts that “Just a few days ago she came into IDEA, Interior Distance Education of Alaska, where my husband works as a contact teacher, and signed up her high school age daughter!”

The fact that a commenter on a blog says something is only weak evidence that it is true—the web is an unfiltered medium. And even if it is true, the implication is that she has just started to home school one child, not that she has home schooled all of them.

The additional detail, the claim that she home schools in young earth creationism, I haven’t yet found anywhere other than the initial post. IDEA, which seems to be the only basis for the home schooling claim, is run by an Alaskan school district; I could find no suggestion on their web page that they are creationists, young earth or otherwise.

The claim that she is a young earth creationist, or alternatively just a creationist, on the other hand, has been made by lots of people online. So far as I can tell, there is no support for it either.

In response to a question from the moderator of a television debate, Palin said

“Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information….Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”

In explaining her view later,

Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms: “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.” (Source here)

She has also been quoted as saying that ““I believe we have a creator” but that “I’m not going to pretend I know how all this came to be.”

All of that could mean that she believes in creationism but doesn’t want to say so for political reasons. It could mean that she believes in evolution but doesn’t want to say so for political reasons. The most obvious reading, however, and the one most consistent with what she has said, is that she believes in God, assumes he is ultimately responsible for the world as it now exists, and has no strong opinions on how he managed it or how long he took.

Before denouncing that as an intellectually indefensible position, it’s worth asking what fraction of those who believe in the theory of evolution could accurately explain it—let alone do a competent job of describing the evidence for it. My impression is that most believers in evolution, like most believers in creationism, base their belief not on their own knowledge and thought but on what they have been told by the authorities they respect.

My interpretation of the whole home school/creationist story is that it is mostly simple bigotry. People who have reasons to oppose Palin start with a stereotypical picture of a fundamentalist conservative.

About The Author

David D. Friedman

David Friedman is author of Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World (2011). He is a leading figure in the anarcho-capitalist community and is Professor of La...

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