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Do Republicans Care If Anybody Is Smarter Than A Third Grader?

23 October 2008
Chris Matthews, Hardball

Chris Matthew

What’s wrong with the media? They should be more like Chris Matthews and hold politicians and their spokespersons accountable for their ignorance.


With their fervent re-election of George W. Bush four years ago, the Republicans have ushered in an era where they would claim it is a handicap to be intelligent. This is a shocking development in a nation that once prided itself on its level of education and leadership in the world. As a member of the baby boomer generation, I have often speculated that conservatives, who we scared the hell out of, came to feel that too much education was dangerous to their ideology. Ever since my generation rolled out of the public school system and onto the streets to protest the wrong-headed war in Vietnam, conservatives, under the banner of the Republican Party, have been cutting off funding to public schools and calling for more religious dogma in science classes.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th US President

Of course, we on the left have helped them in their efforts. Realizing that segregation “looked bad,” they couldn’t use it in the way they wanted to accomplish their goals although they called for the preservation of neighborhood schools. In Oklahoma City where I grew up, that alone would have segregated the schools because it was a city geographically divided by race. The Republicans also had the problem that Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican President, first sent the national guard to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Good ol’ Ike had taken race off the table for them. But they were helped by a very liberal lady from Austin, Texas, Madeleine Murray O’Hare, who sued to stop prayer in public schools. Her suit reached the highest court in the land where she prevailed.

Praying in School

This seems like ancient history to many who were born afterwards, but those of us who lived through the prayer-in-school period remember it well. When I began elementary school in Edmond, Oklahoma, every morning we began our school day with a group recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance and The Lord’s Prayer. It was standard procedure, and nobody really questioned it. I came from a not-very-active, but consider-ourselves-Christian family, and it was my only real exposure to a religious rite on a regular basis. I remember always being mystified by the word “hallowedbethyname.” I assumed it had something to do with Halloween, something I had some experience with. It ranked up there with other mysteries such as “elleminopee,” a term from our daily recitation of the alphabet. I didn’t know what that meant either, but I loudly joined my voice with those of my classmates in blind obedience.

By the time I got to junior high I knew about “l, m, n, o, p” and only smiled to myself when chanting “hallowed be thy name” remembering my early ignorance. By this time my parents had drug us boys off to Catholic Church and we began getting some religious education at Mass on Sunday, not to mention the catechism classes that we attended one evening a week leading up to our Easter Sunday Sunrise Mass baptisms. It was in this period of my development that I began to know how to pray. And of course, that way of prayer being Catholic, it included crossing oneself afterward. Well, my foolish notion that that was okay was quickly corrected by my classmates – mostly Southern Baptists – who began calling me an idolater – another word I didn’t understand other than realizing it was bad. I also didn’t realize until then that when the teacher called for everyone to close their eyes and bow their heads, that there were “faith police” who were exempt from the closing your eyes part. Yet, there they were. It was a quick introduction to the religious intolerance that the many held for the few.

I began to learn a lot of things in this period that I didn’t know before. Most of my classmates were Southern Baptists and knew each other as such, so the odds were you would end up asking a Southern Baptist girl to a school dance. It happened to me twice in junior high school with the same results. It seemed that parents of Southern Baptist girls allowed their daughters to attend school dances and in fact dance, but what was not allowed was any evidence that might show up at church in the next few Sundays. So most of the time at a dance, with a Southern Baptist date, I spent my time dancing around the floor carefully avoiding being caught in the act by a photographer from the school newspaper or yearbook. Okay, I’ll admit it, these particular girls tended to lead rather than follow in such situations. After all, they had their reputations to defend.

That was the atmosphere that I grew up in until I reached high school. At that time the O’Hare decision was handed down by the US Supreme Court and outraged the fine citizenry of Oklahoma City, particularly Southern Baptists. I, on the other hand, having been the victim of taunts directed at me because I was a Catholic – exposed due to my unfortunate sin of crossing myself after The Lord’s Prayer – found the ruling to be absolutely correct. I was glad and still believe that it was the right decision. I believe to force children to recite a prayer at the beginning of the day is not a prayer at all. It is just an attempt on the part of one religion to force its will on another.

On the other hand, I feel that Madeleine Murray O’Hare, whatever her personal motives, handed to them exactly the right tool the conservatives needed to begin their systematic dismantling of the public education system in our country. In 1976 I moved to Greenville, Mississippi, because I got a job there. I was astounded at the racial divide I found there. It was far worse than what I observed growing up in Oklahoma City. And Greenville, Mississippi, the home to Hodding Carter, a Jimmy Carter cabinet member, considered itself to be quite liberal. And I guess they were by Mississippi standards, but their public school system had been decimated by a segregation order handed down by Federal Judge William Keady. Judge Keady was a great man. I knew him well and worked as the court reporter in his court many times while I was there. But many of the white people in Greenville held him in contempt for integrating the schools.

What happened to the public schools of Greenville, Mississippi, and most other towns and cities across the deep south? Using the more acceptable excuse of prayer in school, white parents en masse moved their children out of the public schools and into Christian academies set up by all-white churches in the community. By the time I came to Greenville in 1976 the public schools were at least 99% black. The Christian academies, to cover their tracks and help their athletic programs, gave a few poor black children scholarships. Using prayer in school as an excuse, they dodged integration. Ever since that period, Republicans – especially from the South – have been calling for the seemingly innocuous “school voucher” programs to “give parents choice.” What they really want to do is transfer public taxpayer monies to “faith-based” schools, thus starving the public education system of much needed funding.

It is sad to see one of the greatest accomplishments of our nation being dismantled by a group of people who are afraid of those who look different, those who have different religious beliefs and traditions, as well as those who embrace science. This narrow-minded group of people have a seriously embraced agenda, and they want to roll the social progress of this nation back to the 1950s when black people “knew their place” and things were better. They use fancy terms like “strict Constitutionalist” to bring legitimacy to their cause. If we adhered to the idea of strict constitutionalism, slavery would be re-instated and all the civil rights achievements of our democracy in the past 200 years – including the right of women to vote – would be swept away. These people are a danger to the modern world and can only be compared to the Mullahs of Iran and the Taliban of Afghanistan in their religious zeal. They don’t really believe in democracy. They are seeking a theocracy based on their misguided interpretation of their own founder, Jesus Christ, who preached a message of love and tolerance for all. We must hold them at bay and preserve our democracy at all costs.

Well, that’s my little history lesson for the day. I hope it enlightened some as to what an eyewitness saw.

Keep fighting the good fight!

PS. Willpen has posted a must-read article from the Huffington Post. Go there and check it out. It’s a little long, but keep reading to the end. Every American should know what it says.

The site also contains a video clip of the Nancy Pfotenhauer interview by Chris Matthews on Hardball yesterday. If you think that Sarah Palin is the most uninformed woman in the Republican Party, check it out. It’s a hoot!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 October 2008 11:58 am

    The contrast between the Obama and McCain campaigns could not be more stark — hope v. fear, the future v. the past, unity v. division, real change v. more of the same, the celebration of intelligence and reason v. the celebration of ignorance. Bill Clinton talked about his presidency being the bridge to the 21st century. The Obama campaign has placed itself firmly there.

    Politico is reporting that the McCain campaign has formed a circular firing squad. That seems little more than an admission that the GOP is doing the same. Given the bigotry and hatred that has been on display among their numbers, that is a well-deserved outcome.

    It is encouraging to see the intellectual conservatives and remaining GOP moderates begin to take the party to task. I hope the adults will take control again, even encouraging those who have left in disgust to return. If not, the GOP is doomed.

    While I hope that we are witnessing a renewal of liberal values, I understand the importance of a loyal opposition, either a renewed GOP or a new more moderate center-right party, to act as a regulator. We’re seeing the effect of an unregulated economy. I don’t want to go down the same path in our political lives as well.

  2. Left-Eyed Jack permalink*
    24 October 2008 3:11 pm

    @More light Than Heat

    Your points are well taken.

    I must admit to enjoying watching the Republican Party self-destruct before my very eyes, but I think that some moderate voice needs to emerge from that side of the aisle. I am reminded when the Democratic Party had to realize how much the far-left was hurting them in the 1980 and 2000 elections. While the Democrats chose not to abandon their loyal supporters, the loyal supporters also realized that outlandish pictures of behavior and shouts of dissent against main-stream American values were damaging to their goals, to them and the Party as a whole.

    I fear that the Religious Right Wing of the Republican Party does not understand this. Their refusal to allow McCain to move to the center after the primaries is the most significant factor in his fall from political grace. I personally feel that the Republican Party may now be in a Humpty-Dumpty state. It’s going to be very hard for the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives to knit their fragile, blind-to-each-others’-real-goals coalition back together. We may see the Republican Party become two separate entities after this election. At the very least a great war is going to jeopardize their shaky unity as both sides blame the other for the fiasco that is the 2008 political campaign of John McCain and Congressional candidates. It should be fascinating to watch.

  3. 24 October 2008 4:23 pm


    Thank you so much for this look into the realities of a world that I could not have ever understood. Growing up in Brooklyn NY in the 50’s and 60’s I guess my world was insular. This was not something that I came to understand until, as an adult, I started to experience people from different parts of the country.

    I guess that growing up as a New Yorker had its good and bad points. On the one hand I was only exposed from a very early age to people that were just like me. To explain my upbringing, my life was like a Woody Allen movie, in which I was surrounded by all the ethnic eccentricities that came along with it.

    On the other hand however, as I grew and ventured out into the big world that NYC had to offer I was exposed to the grand diversities that it had to offer. However, it was not until I actually started to get to know people from what we call, the flyover states, that I really realized how many differences there were between someone like me, a typically Northeastern liberal, and the rest of “them”. I say this because it almost surprised me to realize that there were actually “2” different Americas.

    From reading what you have so eloquently put down in words, I now understand so much more that my having grown up in one of the greatest cities in the world has really left me so little real knowledge of what it is really like out there.

    Keep up the good fight. We are almost in the home stretch.

  4. 24 October 2008 5:01 pm

    I, too, must confess some pleasure at its self-destruction. There’s something so satisfying about seeing karma or come-uppance or just plain old retribution in action.

    I’m not sure how or if the GOP will regain its footing. I suspect there are millions of former Republicans who would delight in seeing it do so. It will be interesting to watch.

    Unlike Sarah Palin, I do think we need to understand the past. We need to understand how we came to the point where we find ourselves. It is my hope that Barack Obama can facilitate the painful self-examination that will allow us to see where we are, how we got here, and where we want to go — not to assign blame but to demand accountability and accept responsibility. We would emerge from that process a stronger nation, ready to move forward.

  5. Left-Eyed Jack permalink*
    24 October 2008 6:20 pm


    I take great pleasure in educating others. Thank you for your warm appreciation.

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