Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin

These are further thoughts I've had on the day McCain announced his running mate and the following morning. For my initial reaction, see "What if McCain picks Romney?" below.

As I've pondered through the day McCain's choice of Palin, it's occurred to me--at least this is how it looks to me--that this was a political decision rather than a practical one. Here's what I mean. It seems to me Palin is clearly not the most qualified person McCain could have chosen. But she has three things going for her: she's a woman, she appeals to the Republican base, and she's a governor. But he could have found a more qualified and experienced woman. He could have found someone more qualified and experienced who appeals to the base. And he could have found several more qualified and experienced governors. She is all three in one. The only problem is that McCain has had to sacrifice the experience and superior qualifications others have. Romney, for instance, has a good deal more experience as a governor and in general is more experienced and qualified than Palin. But he has two things against him--he's not a woman, and he's super-rich, which would have meant two very rich men running together. (Less relevant to the point I'm making here are Romney's other problems--bad blood between him and McCain and being Mormon, which would lose McCain votes in the Bible Belt and among evangelicals generally.)

I've also learned that Palin's position on some issues is more extreme than I had realize: her anti-abortion position allows no exceptions (including rape and incest), she favors teaching creationism in public schools, and she is sceptical about global warming. (I could give you lots of reasons why these last two positions are real problems.)

Palin seems likable and capable. She has an appealing personal story--she's the mother of five, including a Down's Syndrome baby born just a few months ago. Apparently, she's independent and reform-minded. McCain must feel comfortable with her and must feel they can work well together.

But for me, the positives are outweighed by many negatives. I'm anti-abortion, but I would definitely make exceptions for rape and incest as well as for a mother's health. (I'm talking about legal standards--individuals, of course, must make their personal decisions within the legal parameters, and those decisions will vary according to circumstances and, I hope, personal soul-searching and inspiration.) I'm entirely persuaded that global warming is a serious problem that requires our urgent attention. "Creationism" is not science and should not be taught as such in the public schools. It also (in most of its forms) happens to be inconsistent with Latter-day Saint doctrine: we do not believe in creation out of nothing; the idea of the creation of the universe within a period of seven twenty-four-hour days has not been held by most serious LDS leaders or thinkers; and the Church has clearly indicated that it does not have an official position on evolution. (I can provide links to exactly what the Church has said on that matter.)

I'm afraid the choice of Palin may revive the culture wars in the U.S. in some damaging ways. I don't agree with Obama completely on some social issues: specifically, I have a stronger position against abortion; but my position on gay marriage is basically the same as his--I don't favor the legalization of gay marriage, but I favor civil unions or other means that will allow some rights (visitation, etc.) to non-married couples. My main reason for preferring Obama on these issues, though, is that he genuinely respects those who disagree with him. He is willing and able to talk to people on both sides of the social issues and wants to find common ground where we can work together rather than draw the battle lines that will stall progress, as has been happening over the past generation. (Listen to his acceptance speech from last Thursday night for the approach I'm referring to.)

I've heard Republican spokespeople saying that Palin has more executive experience than anyone else on the tickets (that would have to include McCain, I guess). But whatever she has achieved, she's been governor for less than two years. Before that she was mayor of a city with about 9,000 inhabitants. Earlier this year, Karl Rove criticized Governor Kaine of Virginia as a possible vice president for having been governor for only three years and having been mayor before that of a city of only 200,000 or so. Hmmm.

The more I've thought about it, the more I've wondered about McCain's judgment and decision-making style. He met Palin only once before this past week. (Apparently he met her at a governors' conference in January.) He had a nice telephone conversation with her. And then they met in Arizona last week. That was it. In my opinion, that is nowhere near enough for making a decision of this magnitude. If McCain went with his gut (as apparently he did), it makes me nervous to think that as president he would "go with his gut" on foreign policy or even domestic issues with as little information as he had in this case.

Palin is currently under investigation for abuse of influence. She may very well be innocent. A staffer in her office apparently made many calls pressuring someone to fire a state trooper who was having a messy divorce with Palin's sister, and Palin's husband may also have been involved. Palin herself may have known nothing about the activities--though that shows some possible weaknesses in her administrative abilities. (By the way, if I've gotten any of these details wrong, I'll correct them as I learn more.) Again, it seems strange that McCain wouldn't have taken a further look into these problems--or if he looked adequately and felt fine about nominating someone who is being investigated, I see that as a problem of judgment as well.

So the current state of my thinking is this: I do not feel comfortable with the thought of someone so underqualified and unknown to the American public being so close to being president. (She asked a few weeks ago what exactly a vice president does, and she clearly has a very inadequate understanding of foreign policy and of how Washington works.) I'm not comfortable with her positions on a number of issues and am afraid her presence will be divisive. I also truly wonder about McCain's judgment.

There are some positives: It's great to have a woman running. She's a nice person, a mom, has a good family. But, boy, she is not qualified. And I'm not comfortable with the many other negatives I see.


Makana Hansen said...

I am a recent BYU alum and found your blog through the DN. I agree with your position on abortion, but can't understand your opinions on creationism and global warming. Unless I'm not understanding correctly are you against anything but evolution being taught in school? I tend to take the Henry Eyring school of thought of "God-conducted evolution." This clearly isn't what is taught in schools and I believe should be at least be given mention.
Now on Global Warming, why are you convinced that it is such a serious problem? As an English professor, I am sure you are well aware of the rhetoric tools used by modern media to convince people that what they are telling them is "true" in order for them to profit from it (read Al Gore's huge increase in personal wealth and Nobel Prize). I believe it to be one of the greatest hoaxes of our time. The claims are based very little in actual scientific fact (having read the IPCC's latest report, I can say this confidently). The "other side" is hardly given a voice but is much more scientific. Compare the two sides by watching "An Incovenient Truth" and "The Great Global Warming Swindle." You will notice one is based much more on scientific fact than the other. I just find it ironic that so many people throw their unwavering support behind this controversial topic without doing any research into its scientific merits. Not the best way to prove a scientific theory if you ask me.

Bruce Young said...

Thank you! Finally someone has made a comment!

On evolution/Creationism: "God-conducted evolution" is a lot different from Creationism. I guess I think it's safer to teach straight science in science classes, but it's also true that the philosophical assumptions and religious beliefs surrounding these issues are important. I'm just not sure high school science teachers are equipped to handle them. They can appropriately be handled in classes on philosophy, the philosophy of science, or similar classes, and could maybe even be mentioned in straight science classes. But again, I'm not sure how well qualified most teachers would be to handle these issues. But certainly I believe that if such issues are brought up, they should be treated fairly (without a bias toward either atheism or religion). At BYU, of course, the religious point of view can--even should--be given preference. See below for some links that may be helpful on these subjects. Note also a fine book by Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and a devout Christian, in which he points to the problems of Creationism and Intelligent Design from a scientific AND religious perspective. The book is titled The Language of God.

On global warming, my beliefs and that of other thoughtful people are not simply the result of having been bamboozled by rhetoric. For a legitimate scientific response from a respected BYU professor, note the following link:

More on the evolution stuff:

Some official LDS positions on evolution, including material approved to be presented at BYU (from, also found at; also the packet, with a prefatory explanation, is found at

In addition to the material included in the "evolution packet" (ca. 6 pp.) (any of the links just noted), see additional items at the following sites:

* (repeats some of the Church statements from the packet & adds more) (ca. 4 pp.)
** (a history of the statements) (ca. 3 pp.)
** (a general discussion) (ca. 7 pp.)

I've discovered some other excellent items from BYU Idaho. These are from an online publication titled Perspective: Expressing Mind and Spirit (Volume 4, number 2, Autumn 2004). I list them here in the order I recommend them.

**(1) (ca. 13 pp.)
**(2) (ca. 7 pp.)
*(3) (ca. 13 pp.)

(See also the table of contents-- --and the introduction:

ArringtonZoo said...

I get so tired of the whole Creationism vs Evolutionism thing. And Big Bang! Eek! Frankly Big Bang theory is just that, a theory. You mentioned that Creationism isn't "science". Then what the heck is science? I could just as easily say that Big Bang is not "science". What it really comes down to is that we don't know. Can't we just teach that? "Quite honestly kids, we don't know how we got here." That's really the truth as far as the sciences go. Only religion gives us some light on the subject. I don't agree with all of the facets of Creationism but it's a whole lot closer to the truth than some of what is taught in our schools. Science should be truth? Not what we maybe think might have happened but we don't really know cause were clueless. If we don't know, just admit if for crying out loud.

ArringtonZoo said...

Sorry, There should be a period after truth not a question mark. ;-)

Bruce Young said...

On "Creatonism" and science as I understand it: Science takes a particular approach. It's not an approach that can find the complete truth about everything; it has limited objectives. Good scientists are aware of that and don't pretend that their methods tell us the full truth about the process of creation, for example.

What science does is propose hypotheses that can be tested using methods that are verifiable by widely shared standards of evidence and logic. The evidence basically has to be available to anyone with normally functioning sensory capacities--so the evidence is measurable or otherwise accessible to the senses.

That means, among other things, that science is mainly dealing with "how" things happen in the fairly limited sense of the physical processes that take place.

So "Creationism"--even if we take it in the very limited sense that some Being directed the process of creation--is not a scientific theory in the same sense that evolutionary theory is. There's no way for science, using its standard methods, to verify the involvement of a superhuman being in the processes it has identified. And some of the common ideas associated with Creationism--including a very young earth--are not supported by the evidence.

By the way, I like the sound of the phrase "Intelligent Design," and in fact I believe there is evidence of intelligent design throughout the universe. But again, it turns out "Intelligent Design" is not a viable scientific theory for a couple of reasons: (1) it is virtually impossible to test; (2) in practice it relies on using the hypothesis of an intelligent designer to explain phenomena that cannot be otherwise explained. The result is that when natural explanations end up being found for the phenomena, the designer seems to disappear--or at least becomes an unnecessary hypothesis. That suggests that something's got to be wrong here--in other words, since I believe there IS an intelligent being involved even when we have found natural processes at work, there's got to be something wrong with the approach taken by "Intelligent Design."