The subject of evolution has come up twice on recent editions of the MSNBC show Hardball, hosted by Chris Matthews. Our host has just discovered that the Republicans have a problem with science, you see, and has decided to explore this troubling development.
Better late than never, I suppose. The Repubs were virulently anti-science all through the Bush administration, but Matthews didn’t seem to care. He might have invited Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science to discuss the issue. But Repubs were in the ascendancy then, meaning that Matthews was inclined to overlook such flaws. Now that it has become fashionable to attack Republicans he feels freer to explore these flaws.
The transcripts of the shows do not seem to have been posted yet. Video of last night’s segment with Republican Rep. Mike Pense is available here.
Video of tonight’s segment, with Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, can be found here.
The Pense interview was revealing. Matthews asked flat out whether Pense believed in evolution, and Pense steadfastly refused to answer. He kept repeating that he believes that “God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that’s in them,” and then tried to get back to his talking points. Matthews nailed him by saying bluntly that he was refusing to take a stand on the issue because a lot of his conservative base would be offended by accepting evolution, while rejecting it outright would make him look stupid.
That was the high point of the interview. Pense quickly lapsed into the standard anti-science talking points. There are really smart people on both sides of issues like evolution and global warming and we just want both sides explored and taught, that sort of thing. People who, unlike Matthews, have some experience with these issues recognize these as the words of a politically savvy creationist. Matthews, sadly, seemed inclined to take them at face value.
Matthews did close by chastising Pense for the fact that the Republican Mt. Rushmore would currently include people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, so I do give him credit for that.
Tonight’s segment with Tom Tancredo was more excruciating. Matthews seems to have forgotten that during one of the Republican primary debates (Tancredo was briefly a candidate) the candidates were asked to raise their hand if they rejected evolution. Tancredo, along with Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, raised their hands. This inspired McCain, who previously professed his belief in evolution, to bactrack a bit by making it clear that he also believed in God. That Matthews should not mention this debate is odd given that he was the host. Full story here.
Anyway, Matthews asked Tancredo what you call someone who believes in (oy! that phrase again) evolution but also believes that God guided the process. The correct answer was “theistic evolution.” Tancredo replied, “intelligent design.” Mathews, not really understanding this issue, let that slide. Matthews also tried desperately to help Tancredo pretend to be something other than virulently ant-science, which created the clear impression that ID was some moderate alternative to evolution.
Tancredo proceeded to unload the standard talking points about how microevolution is fine but there is no evidence for macroevolution and that he and his fellow right-wingers just wanted to have a full and open discussion of the issues, with schoolchildren as the jury. Trust me, you’ve heard it all before.
The simple fact is that most Congressional Republicans don’t care one way or another about this issue. As a friend of mine once explained it to me, there are the Money and Power Republicans, and then there are the Religious Republicans. Most powerful Repubs fall into the former category, but know they must appeal to the latter. Much of their base will hold it against them if they endorse evolution, while very few will hold it against them if they hedge and speak in code. It’s that simple.