Ben Carson is a gifted neurosurgeon who, like a great many Americans, has some funny ideas about ancient history, apparently shaped by the Bible, and in his case involving the origins and the purpose of the Egyptian pyramids. If the programming on The History Channel is any guide, loopy ideas about the pyramids are something of a popular occupation in these United States.
It is strange that some loopy ideas are political and social disqualifiers — beliefs that make you one of those people — and that some are perfectly acceptable. Like a great many things in the dynamics of American social life, our very subtle sense of class is here at work: Elite superstitions (yoga, GMO foods, etc.) are a-okay, prole superstitions (Noah literally put two of every animal onto a handmade wooden boat) are bonkers.
Republican politicians without exception are asked about their beliefs regarding evolution, which of course has nothing to do with their thinking about scientific questions per se — nobody ever asked Sarah Palin about dark matter or quantum gravity — but are, rather, demands that political candidates make a public profession of faith in secular popular culture: “I am not now, nor have I ever been, one of those people.” Untruths don’t become truths by dint of popularity, but there are a lot of those people: About 42 percent of Americans, Republicans and Democrats both, take the narrowly creationist view of the origins of man, a number that hasn’t changed much in a generation or two.
Some embarrassingly large share of Republicans believes that the president is a Muslim or that he was born outside the United States. The pollsters have rarely studied how many Democrats believe those things, but in polls made up of both Republicans and Democrats, non-trivial numbers of Americans routinely report that they believe them. Americans in general love to believe that there is some great secret that all the sheep are missing: Throughout the Bush years, an enormous share of Democrats believed that he was somehow in on the 9/11 attacks.
In a 2008 Pew poll asking about Obama’s religion, about 55 percent of voters answered Christian; for comparison, in a 2011 poll fewer than half of voters were able to identify Mitt Romney as a Mormon. In the 2008 poll, 16 percent of Republicans identified Obama as a Muslim; so did 11 percent of independents and 9 percent of Democrats. (In subsequent polls, those numbers grew.) Fewer than half of all voters said they were “comfortable” with Obama’s religion. But the story we get is that Republicans have loopy beliefs about Obama, not that Americans entertain loopy beliefs about Obama — and all sorts of things. That isn’t accidental.
The Democrats and their media friends learned well the lesson of 1980 and 1994: When it’s Left vs. Right on questions of public policy, the Right wins more often than it loses. For a generation, the Left has been trying to change the subject from what kinds of policies Republicans seek to enact to what kinds of people Republicans are. The answer is, depending on the need of the moment: racist, poisonously elitist, disastrously anti-elitist, the party of Wall Street gazillionaires, the party of toothless hillbillies, godless capitalists, Christian fanatics — anything you might not want to be, that’s what they’d have you believe the Republicans are.
For a generation, the Left has been trying to change the subject from what kinds of policies Republicans seek to enact to what kinds of people Republicans are.
“Anti-science,” and anti-intellectual, is very much what the Democrats would have you believe Republicans are today, thus the critical national conversation about the fact that Ben Carson seems to believe that the pyramids were built for the purpose of storing grain. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which that becomes a legitimate public-policy issue, our strained relations with Egypt notwithstanding. It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which oddball New Age beliefs about health and health care are important public-policy issues. Indeed, we need not even imagine: There is no evidence at all that mysticism-based “medical” services such as acupuncture and aromatherapy provide any meaningful health benefit, but Democrats who scoff at their churchgoing fellow countrymen as credulous rubes believe in this sort of thing (and in astrology) in relatively high numbers, and so these pseudoscientific services have become eligible for Obamacare subsidies. As with chiropraxis and its “innate intelligence,” there isn’t any evidence that the mystical energy at the heart of acupuncture — qi — actually exists, much less that it can be manipulated to therapeutic ends. There isn’t really any evidence that yoga provides benefits distinct from those of any non-mysticism-based form of calisthenics, that meditation does much of anything, etc., but for Mrs. Clinton — and for millions of people who will vote for her — these are articles of faith.
So far as I know, Ben Carson isn’t proposing that his oddball beliefs about pyramids be made the subject of federal subsidies.
Mrs. Clinton’s brand of crazy is, as those of you who remember the 1990s know, some next-level stuff. She purported to hold policy conversations with the long-dead Eleanor Roosevelt; her apologists now attempt to present those as mere exercises in imagination, but Mrs. Clinton brought in assistance in the form of Jean Houston, a deeply nutty New Age figure who found her way into mysticism via research involving LSD and who is associated with the so-called human-potential movement: think Esalen, Aldous Huxley, and all that rubbish. You know that cult at Big Sur where Don Draper ends up at the end of Mad Men? We’re talking about those guys. But there’s no Democrat-succoring juice to be had from Herself’s excursions into the odd, so that weirdness has never been presented as a real challenge to her fitness for office.
#share#Until the day before yesterday, Mrs. Clinton was an avowed opponent of gay marriage; so was Barack Obama, who insisted that he held that position on the advice of God. Remarkably, he did this while denouncing Republicans as being too Godsmacked — bitter clingers and all that — to think rationally about public affairs. No one batted an eye, and a prominent gay magazine has just named the president its hero of the year. Though I must confess that I very much doubt it, perhaps President Obama was entirely sincere about his religious beliefs; I do not at all doubt the sincerity of my fellow Catholics or my Buddhist friends, but I wonder whether if we were really pressed on the question of transubstantiation or the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama we’d sound any less odd to a truly neutral observer than Carson does.
It would be something if some enterprising reporter for the Washington Post or the New York Times would inquire as to whether Mrs. Clinton has had any policy salons with ghosts lately, or what Senator Sanders thinks about the science of circumcision, or Barack Obama whether it’s appropriate to proffer federal subsidies for voguish nonsense just because California licenses it. But, no: Only those people care about such things.