WASHINGTON -- The storm-tossed and rudderless Republican Party should particularly ponder the vote last week in Dover, Pa., where all eight members of the school board seeking re-election were defeated. This expressed the community's wholesome exasperation with the board's campaign to insinuate religion, in the guise of "intelligent design'' theory, into high school biology classes, beginning with a required proclamation that evolution "is not a fact.''
But it is. And President Bush's straddle on that subject -- "both sides'' should be taught -- although intended to be anodyne, probably was inflammatory, emboldening social conservatives. Dover's insurrection occurred as Kansas' Board of Education, which is controlled by the kind of conservatives who make conservatism repulsive to temperate people, voted 6-4 to redefine science. The board, opening the way for teaching the supernatural, deleted from the definition of science these words: "a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena.''
"It does me no injury,'' said Thomas Jefferson, "for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.'' But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education. The conservative coalition, which is coming unglued for many reasons, will rapidly disintegrate if limited-government conservatives become convinced that social conservatives are unwilling to concentrate their character-building and soul-saving energies on the private institutions that mediate between individuals and government, and instead try to conscript government into sectarian crusades.
But, then, the limited-government impulse is a spent force in a Republican Party that cannot muster congressional majorities to cut the growth of Medicaid from 7.3 percent to 7 percent next year. That "cut'' was too draconian for some Republican "moderates.''
But, then, most Republicans are moderates as that term is used by persons for whom it is an encomium: Moderates are people amiably untroubled by Washington's single-minded devotion to rent-seeking -- to bending government for the advantage of private factions.
Conservatives have won seven of 10 presidential elections, yet government waxes, with per household federal spending more than $22,000 per year, the highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II. Federal spending -- including a 100 percent increase in education spending since 2001 -- has grown twice as fast under President Bush as under President Clinton, 65 percent of it unrelated to national security.