The "Spirited Atheist" of The Washington Post, Susan Jacoby, predictably trashed Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston as not only "poster children for the dumbing down of America" and as "most middle-class American parents' worst nightmare," but proof of what happens when religious people show off their contempt for book learning:
Although the children of politicians are generally off-limits, Bristol is an exception for two reasons. First, she has made herself into a public figure not only by sharing her personal life with the world but by her loopy performance as a spokesperson against teen pregnancy. (I wonder how it promotes the message that teen pregnancy is a bad idea when a young woman is financially rewarded and glamorized by the media precisely because she was a pregnant teen lucky enough to be the daughter of a famous mom.)
Second, Bristol was used by her mother as an asset to placate the religious right-wing base of the Republican Party during the 2008 campaign. She was a living demonstration of Sarah Palin's opposition to abortion: Look at my teenage daughter, she made a mistake and did the right thing by having the baby. The only more shameless aspect of Sarah's campaign was her constant exhibition of her Down Syndrome son. Look at me, I didn't have an abortion like those terrible elitist women who make fun of me for not reading books.
Women like Jacoby are truly angry that abortions didn't take place in the Palin family. They think it's shameless to have the baby, and stupid. The idea of promoting teenage abstinence to them is obviously, transparently, a scam, and the promotion of abstinence after a teenage pregnancy seems especially laughable.
But what grates most on conservative ears is the persistent contention that anyone who doesn't agree with atheist liberals must not read books. Religious conservatives are typically anti-intellectual and racist, Jacoby insisted:
What all of this has to do with religion is that fundamentalism is one of the three major components--an Unholy Trinity--of the right-wing rage that Palin clearly thinks could make her the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. The two other elements are anti-intellectualism and class resentment that serve as an accompaniment to and a mask for racism. (Think, for a moment, about the filth that would have been spewed if the first black presidential candidate had a pregnant, unmarried teenage daughter.)
There has always been a strong correlation between religious fundamentalism and lack of education, although saying so leaves you open to charges of "elitism," now the dirtiest of words. The better educated Americans are, the more likely they are to be affiliated with religions that have made room for secular knowledge (even if the latter contradicts some "sacred" book) or adherents to no religion at all. About 45 percent of Americans who have no education beyond high school believe in the literal truth of the Bible, while only 19 percent of college graduates do. Two-thirds of college graduates, but only one-third of high school graduates, believe that living beings have evolved over time.
This is the main reason why fundamentalists are supporters of kindergarten-through-college right-wing schools: in those institutions, fundamentalists can control the message. The sneer in Sarah Palin's voice when she calls Barack Obama a "professor" is most evident when she speaks to people who share her enthusiasm for old-time religion and her contempt for education and learning.
Bristol and Levi are parents' worst nightmare, but most importantly, it's not really their fault they fell into bed and made a baby. It came directly from "the dream world" of religious conservatism, where apparently no one has ever broken away from their Bible studies long enough to realize teenagers want to make out:
You can be sure of one thing: if Sarah should become the Republican nominee: She'll have cleaned up the Bristol-Levi-baby trio into something more suitable for middle-class consumption. Because the truth is that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston are most middle-class American parents' worst nightmare, but they are a nightmare that arises directly from the daily dream world propagated by politicians like Sarah Palin and her supporters.
Whenever I hear liberal-to-centrist pundits saying that even if Sarah gets the Republican nomination, she will only ensure Obama's re-election, I shudder. That this representative of pure ignorance, retrograde religion, and class envy is being taken seriously at all speaks volumes about the dumbing down of America. The Bristol-Levi story, promoted by dumbed-down media, is what you get when you put Sarah Palin's values into action. Will Americans refudiate this stupidity, or will they, in 2012, show that no ignorance is too ignorant if it is cloaked in reflexive anti-elitism and dubious family values? That is a question the pundits should be taking seriously.