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'Mention one hot-button issue, and you've expressed an entire ideology'

I often get into airplane conversations about feminism. This happens when people ask me what I do, and I foolishly answer them instead of pushing my earbuds in deeper.

Not too long ago, someone asked me if I would vote for an anti-choice candidate (OK he said pro-life, but I hate that term.) When I said no, he accused me of being a one-issue voter. I pointed out that people who want to make abortion illegal often have an additional laundry list of things they'd like to see changed: making contraception illegal, keeping sex ed out of the schools, putting creationism in the get my drift.

Slate's Bill Bishop writes about an interesting case study of this phenomenon:

Sex education is an oldie but a goodie because it's about so much more than sex or education. Some of the earliest coalitions in the conservative movement were formed around schoolbook fights. In Orange County, California, anti-U.N.ers found common cause with evangelicals and small-government libertarians in late-'60s battles over what books should be used in the public schools. Sex education and books were a proxy for a constellation of beliefs that were defining modern-day conservatism.

Maybe we can see this phenomenon more clearly if we take a trip back to 1974 and the great Kanawha County, W.Va., schoolbook war.

In the spring of that year, the local school board introduced a new set of "multicultural" texts. There had been a dispute about sex education in the Kanawha schools a year or two earlier, and one of the leaders of that protest had been elected to the board. She began to talk against the books, saying they violated "traditional Christian and American values." Parents met. Then they protested. By the end of summer, they were holding mass marches in Charleston.

And when school started, parents kept their children out of the classrooms. By the fall, much of the state's coal-mining industry was shut down as union miners went on strike over the books. Things got out of hand. One minister prayed publicly for the deaths of three school board members. Shots were fired at a school bus, somebody dynamited a school, and several folks went to jail.

Ten years after the strike ended, a graduate student interviewed a large group of West Virginia's schoolbook warriors. Don Goode found that pro- and anti-schoolbook advocates disagreed not just about schools but about everything.

Pro-book advocates believed in government and thought that perhaps taxes should be raised. They supported the Supreme Court's ruling that prayer be banned from schools. They thought schools should serve hot meals to poor kids and provide day care. Pro-book West Virginians went to mainline churches (Methodist and Episcopalian) and lived mostly in the city of Charleston.

Anti-book activists told Goode they disagreed with the Supreme Court's prayer decision. They thought government was too big, that tax money was wasted, and that schools shouldn't try to take the place of families. They lived in the rural areas of Kanawha County and worshipped at nondenominational churches like the Two-Mile Mountain Mission Church and the Open Door Apostolic Church.

Goode also asked the West Virginians what values they thought were most important. Those who thought the new textbooks were OK ranked a "world of beauty in nature and the arts" quite high on Goode's list of 18 values. They agreed that having a "saved, eternal life" was least important.

Those who opposed the books ranked eternal salvation first. Talk about your two Americas...