The state of embarassment
(Courtesy of Cashill Newsletter - June 9, 2000 )
By Jack Cashill
"I'm embarrassed to tell you," said the professor. "I'm really embarrassed."
I had just asked this stately, sixty-something woman a simple question: "Where are you from?"
I asked it without guile. She was sitting next to me at dinner on this the second night of an academic "conference" aboard the good ship Ecstasy.
"Aw, c'mon," I said. "It can't be that bad."
"Yes, it is," she sighed. "I'm from Kansas."
My little inner imp smiled in delight. I couldn't let this one go.
"Why would you be embarrassed?" I asked in feigned ignorance. I already knew the answer. As card carrying members of America's liberal elite, university professors (my wife, of course, excepted) tend to think along predictable lines
"Oh, you know," she said solemnly, "that whole evolution thing."
"Do you follow science?" I asked.
"You don't have to follow science" she shot back, "to know just what an embarrassment the Kansas School Board is."
Dare I tell her that I attended the Topeka hearings? That I thought the heari ngs the most impressive bit of grass roots democracy I had ever witnessed? Naa! It was too early in the cruise to blow my cover. Besides, I had promised my wife to be a good (i.e. agreeable) boy throughout.
"Aw, don't be embarrassed," I reassured her. "We're from Kansas City." "
Good," she said, relieved. "Then you understand."
How could I not? Nearly a year after those pivotal hearings, the Big E--as in embarrassment--still seems to be driving Kansas politics.
Kansas Governor Bill Graves got the ball rolling by decreeing the School Board hearings, "a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that did not have to exist." Personally , I'd save such hefty declarations for things like, say, the accidental bombing of a Kosovo refugee column, but then again, I live in Missouri. What do I know about the Big E?
State Senator Audrey Langworthy knows a lot. In fact, this Prairie Village pol entertains an almost imperial sense of her own humiliation. "I do think it was a total embarrassment," she said recently, "not just nationally, but internationally." Yikes!
To exorcise the Big E from Johnson County, local Republicans will spend a ton in the state School Board primary. Their target is incumbent Linda Holloway of Shawnee, a Darwin critic who served as School Board President at the time of the hearings.
Had the president been from Abilene or Arkansas City or some such backwater, the country club cognoscenti could distance themselves from the shame of it all. But this Holloway woman dwells among them. That she remains in office is, to them, an affront to all things suburban.
As an avenging angel, the Big E brigade have settled on one Sue Gamble, a 13-year member of the Shawnee Mission school board and, of course, a "moderate." In the self-parodying myopia of the local media, there are no liberals in Kansas, only conservatives and moderates, the latter identifiable by their tendency to blush.
And to change rules. After blistering the David Millerites for challenging the incumbent Graves, a whole roster of born-again incumbent bashers has lined up behind Gamble, among them State Representative David Adkins, State Senator John Vratil, Senate President Dick Bond, and the aforementioned Langworthy, as well as the usual suspects from the Mainstream Coalition, the Trotskyite wing of the local Republican party.
Surprisingly, Greg Musil has enlisted in their putsch. What makes his endorsement unusual is that Musil is pursuing the Republican nomination for Kansas' Third Congressional District. Historically, candidates seek endorsements, not give them. But hey, when you're battling the Big E, you gotta do whatever it takes.
"Last year's attempt to ban evolution from the Kansas classroom," declared Musil in a recent news release, "is just one more example of the dangerous attempts to bankrupt our public schools financially and academically."
To his credit, Jim Sullinger of The Star promptly challenged Musil's campaign manager, David Schlosser, on the veracity of Musil's claim since the School Board attempted no such thing.
Schlosser's response takes one's breath away for its sheer Clintonian-ness. Said he, as Sullinger relates it, "The candidate was referring to the public's perception of the effort and not the board's final decision." No, he wasn't. He was trying to twist that perception through sheer demagoguery.
And why not. Just about every other pundit and politico has been lying to the public since day one. As Sullinger affirms, the Board merely deleted a few (dubious) questions from the state tests and left curriculum decisions to local school boards. "The decision," Linda Holloway notes correctly, "was rather minor compared to the reaction it got."
But Holloway underestimates the grip that the Big E has on Johnson County. As Star political writer, Steve Kraske notes, "Moderate Republicans . . . detest the new standards." Why "detest"? Rest assured, their hostility has almost nothing to do with science. Or even religion. A room full of Gamble supporters will not have read more than three books among them on either side of the unsettled evolution debate. For all they know, the "Cambrian explosion" could be a new French cheese dip and the "fossil record" those old Mitch Miller albums in the basement. And unlike Darwin and company, they all believe God created the universe anyhow. No, what they most detest about the new standards, as Kraske suggests, is "the negative publicity they brought."
"I heard from friends all over," laments Langworthy, "saying, 'What is going on in Kansas?" Langworthy must live in daily terror of being thought provincial by someone, somewhere, and I suppose, with her "Prairie Village, Kansas" return address, she has reason to. But I can assure Ms. Langworthy that no matter how loudly she protests her new found affection for evolutionary biology, the liberal elite will still hold her kind in contempt.
Let's get back to the good ship Ecstasy. On the first night at dinner, one couple admitted they came from Texas. The others tittered. The couple caught on quicker than I did. "We just moved there," protested the guy. "Yes," added the wife, "we had nothing to do with putting 'Shrub' in office." They all laughed and engaged in several more rounds of uninhibited Bush-bashing. They were among their own.
The unique and unrecognized political genius of George W. Bush is that he has somehow managed to capture the enthusiastic support of both Kansas moderates and conservatives. But the liberal elite could care less about such fine distinctions. Through their eyes, all Republicans kinda look alike.
As proof of the same, I happened to catch a conversation between two lady profs. Said the first, "My daughter is getting married." She then paused for dramatic effect and added bitterly, "to a Republican. A lawyer no less." Replied the second, without a trace of irony, "All they want to do is make money."
Really now, Audrey, are these the kind of people we want to suck up to? The young man in question could easily have been the son of a person quite like yourself.
Posted: June 9, 2000
Editor's note: Jack Cashill is Ingram's Executive Editor and has affiliated with the magazine for 25 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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