We want our leaders to be like us

(So the combined 14 readers of my last blog and this one have probably inferred my two main policies. First, I don’t like to write about topics that most people find interesting. It’s why I shun electoral politics. It’s why my old blog was peppered with words like ‘epistemic.‘ You don’t use that term unless you’re intentionally trying to turn people away. It’s why I now write about–well you know what I write about. And second, I don’t like to write anything that is timely or relevant. I know this policy is a corollary of the first. But I like to be explicit about it. Now I wouldn’t start off with this unless I planned on breaking these rules. So here it goes.)

Yesterday Wisconsin Governor and probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker was asked what he thinks about evolution. When Walker avoided the question, some liberals of course got very angry. One of the more interesting responses was by Sean Davis of The Federalist, who went on a Twitter rampage.

If I had to summarize his two-dozen odd tweets: “Who cares what Walker thinks about evolution? The meeting was about trade dammit. And if you’re going to pick on Republicans, be fair. Ask Democrats some tough science questions. You media liberals are just using evolution as a political tool. Stop pretending you actually care about science. If you did care, you’d be able to respond to the Stephen Jay Gould knowledge I’m about to drop on you. Watch me drop some more SJG. And again and again and again.” You really should read the full tirade just for the punctuated equilibrium references.

It shouldn’t surprise you to know that I largely agree with Davis’s sentiments. I think it’s deeply unfair and hypocritical how scientists and the media discuss this issue. Evolution is being used as a political tool, and I’m glad Davis pushed back so heroically.

But I’m curious how Davis thinks this situation differs from the fact that Christians often insist politicians affirm their faith. It seems both the secular media and conservative Christians play this game, and they both succeed to varying degrees. Though it’s changing, it’s still true that only Christians can win at national politics. It wasn’t too long ago Obama tried to seem more Christian than he probably was for political reasons.

I’d be happy if we could all admit a couple things. First, ability to govern isn’t correlated with belief in either Christ or evolution. Both creationists and atheists can equally succeed and fail at President. Second, in the spirit of acknowledging our subjective beliefs, we want our leaders to agree with our core values even if it makes no practical difference. Many Americans want a Christian president because, well, they just do. And many Americans have the same sort of subjective, non-rational reason they want a president who believes in evolution. These positions are not good or bad or right or wrong. They’re merely human.

What’s troubling–and this upsets me as much as it does Davis–is the media hypocrisy and double standard. That’s the real problem. I’m not sure how Davis’s anger solves that problem, but it’s what we should focus on after the partisan bickering dies down. I think I’m getting somewhere as I work through my thoughts on diversity. Stayed tuned if you’re interested.

Finally, here is a relevant post from my old blog you might want to read. From the conclusion:

I suspect that liberals view ECC the way conservatives view public displays of Christian piety. Both represent cultural markers as much as they do a policy agenda. And that’s okay with me. Political leaders are more than people who advance legislation we support. By that measure we know we will often be disappointed in the end anyway. When you see yourself losing on the substance, public affirmation of your values can become even more important. Liberals want to live in an America where everyone embraces evolution and climate change (ECC). Since that won’t happen anytime soon, at the very least they’ll make damned sure our President embraces them. Put another way, liberals want politicians who believe in ECC because, well, they want politicians who believe in ECC. I wish they’d just say that.


  1. You actually do write about timely events. They may not be popular events, but they are timely, like academic firings, for instance.

    The belief landscape is changing as evidenced by books like Christianity After Religion (Diana Butler Bass), The Future of Faith (Harvey Cox), and A New Kind of Christianity (Brian McLaren). Because I differentiate faith from belief, I don’t mind if someone who believes differently than me or is in a different religion is elected, as long as we faith our practices (as opposed to practice our faith) in the same way. A good example would be Gandhi. Though he might be criticised by many and was not a political leader (neither was MLK), our faiths are the same and so belief it not such a big deal. We are moving more and more towards a post-belief era (Europe is ahead of us), so I think this dynamic will continue to change (Europeans view US Americans as very religious).

    Nice blog.

    1. Really deep stuff here that I’ll have to think about some more. Really appreciate it. I find your distinction between faith and belief interesting. I think there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying. So I guess my question is a bit personal (and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want)….many Christians would say that it does matter whether you believe Jesus is the son of God and that you achieve salvation is only through him. Are you saying that this belief doesn’t matter? That it doesn’t matter to you? That Christians who believe this shouldn’t try to convince society of this belief?

      I have to think more before I articulate this better. Thanks for provoking this.

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