Monday, October 30, 2006

Science and Republicans

The New York Times' Jodi Kantor has a profile of Bellevue voters and the race between Darcy Burner and Dave Reichert today that is remarkably tuned in:
"I am a Republican and have traditionally voted that way," Tony Schuler, an operations services manager at Microsoft with a Harvard M.B.A., said as he sat with his wife, Deanna, in their home above Lake Sammamish. But Mr. Schuler abhors what he sees as a new Republican habit of meddling in private affairs.

"The Schiavo case. Tapping people without a warrant. Whether or not people are gay," he said. "Let people be free! It's not government's job to interfere with those things."

In Bellevue, the professional is political. Rather than religion or culture, what unites the diverse population -- a quarter of residents are foreign born -- are the values of their workplaces: technological innovation, accuracy, efficiency.

And this year, one issue incenses them above all others: restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

It is a matter of concern across the country, even across parties. But for many engineers and their ilk, restriction of stem cell research is what gay marriage is to conservative Christians, a phenomenon so counter to their basic values that they cannot vote for any candidate who supports it. After all, for Bellevue's professionals, science is not only a means of creating wealth but also an idealistic pursuit, the most promising way they know of improving the human condition.

"For hundreds of years, science has had its own jurisprudence over the truth. It's called peer review, and it works pretty well," said Mr. Mattison, whose father had Alzheimer's and his uncle Parkinson's disease. "I'm outraged that a mere politician would interpret science for me."

As Digby says:
The Republicans and the Christian Right are leading America on a backward march into the Dark Ages --- and that is stepping on our dreams. As a culture, we have always been idealistic about progress and inspired by new discoveries to improve the lot of the human race. We're about invention and reinvention. It's one of our best qualities.

These people are telling us that those days are over. We have to depend upon brute force, superstition and ancient revelation. Science is dangerous. Art is frightening. Education must be strictly circumscribed so that children aren't exposed to ideas that might lead them astray.

It isn't just suburbanites who recognize what's happening to the Republican Party -- it's true of farmers and small businessmen in rural areas as well. And the abuse of science by religious fanatics throughout the "conservative movement", and most of all within the ranks of the Bush administration, is the kind of thing that will shake them out.

Still, in a place like Bellevue -- full of engineers and technology folks -- Reichert's recent stumbles on global warming (he says he's not so sure that it's being caused by human activity) only make him seem a captive of the fundamentalists.

And then there's been his waffling and posturing on stem-cell research, despite his claims to "maverickdom" on the issue. Goldy, as always, has the scoop.

My first few years in the Seattle area I spent as news editor of the old Bellevue Journal American (the paper didn't pay enough for me to afford to live there) and my most recent book, Strawberry Days,, is about the early history of Bellevue and the roots of its suburban transformation. I continued to work on the Eastside up through 2000, and my wife worked there until this month. Many of my friends live there, and a chunk of my social network is based on the Eastside.

Much of Bellevue's modern reimagining, as I detailed in my book, was based on a whites-only vision of suburban life, so in between its incorporation in 1952 and the mid-1980s, it tended to be a white-flight kind of community with well-funded schools, neatly tended cul-de-sacs, and a real racial homogeneity. But the emergence of the technology industry on the Eastside made it no longer the place people commuted from, but rather one that people commuted to. And the resulting orientation of the area's growth has meant that many, many more minorities (particularly Asian and South Asian) now call it home. More importantly, many of them are well-educated and have a view of science that reflects it.

One of the things a strong Democratic showing in the coming elections could bring about is a panicked response by the "conservative movement," which I think will drive them further to the right in search of their base; further into the arms of the religious right and their self-imposed faith-based ignorance. In which case Digby's right: this could effect the long-term identification of the common-sense segment of the voting population with Democrats.

-- Dave

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