Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith have an article up at Politico making the usual arguments about how Obama has managed to dodge one kind of culture war only to step into another. It’s the sort of thing that I believe misses the point, because it implies—incorrectly—that the hysterical right changes much when they shift their focus around. That they’ve moved their emphasis from anti-feminism to pro-racism isn’t really that noteworthy, nor does it mean the former goals are abandoned. It doesn’t mean the culture war has changed or is off.
Not that I’m saying that some substantial minority of Americans and even more substantial segment of the popular media refuses to recognize anyone besides right-wing Christian White Americans as truly American, but that is basically exactly what I’m saying and the insane response to a pragmatic moderate Democratic president has proved it.
He gets closer by seeing this for what it is, which is basically tribal warfare. The distinctions between different kinds of right wing fanatics are interesting from a sociological point of view, but the critical thing to understand is that they see themselves as a complete unit that’s opposed to who they’ve deemed the Liberal Elite. The notion that there are libertarians and then there are evangelical Christian right wingers, and that they’re at odds with each other, is just wrong. That was one of the things I was trying to expose in my article about Sharron Angle at Slate—Christian Reconstructionists concocted a theological rationalization for libertarian politics that fit in nicely with social conservatism, and it was adopted by many evangelical Christians. If you actually pay attention to their teachings, their beliefs about why the government should be up in your panty drawer but shouldn’t provide services or regulate business makes sense. Many right wingers are aspiritual people who are just mean, and they don’t care about all this religious blooey. But they support the religious right, because they see themselves as members of the same tribe, the ones they believe are Real Americans. And Real Americans are defined as much as what they’re not as what they are. And their political goals are structured around sticking it to the enemy.
The enemies list is long: racial minorities (especially non-compliant ones), immigrants, foreigners in general, feminists, liberals, poor people—yes, especially poor people, who haven’t known their place in like 100 years at least—men who aren’t completely wrapped up in non-stop demonstrations of proof they’re Real Men, gay people, college professors, activists who try to improve people’s lives, honestly you could go on.
They view politics as a battle for dominance. Policy should be aimed at making it clear that their tribe is better than everyone else. Policy wonks are loathsome not just because they hit college professor and activist notes (both being “accusations” aimed at Obama), but because they tend to believe that government exists for all people and policy should be crafted around that. Culture warriors believe government should be crafted around making it clear that they’re better than everyone else. Policies that enrich them but also enrich people on the enemies list need to be shunned. They are a classic example of folks who’ll live in a mud hut if that means their neighborhood lives in a shit hole. Which is why the ones that find Christianity boring and never darken a church door still associate happily with Christian right wingers they often secretly think are stupid. The Bible thumpers are a little slow, in their eyes, but they’re still members of the tribe and deserve support. They have the right enemies, after all. People who are members of the hated groups but make it clear they support the goals of wingnut dominance are allowed in the club, with conditional membership.
When they talk about the “liberal elite”, they mean white class traitors who find their tribalism stupid. Since you can’t tell white people apart just by looking at us, they invest a lot into singling out tribal markers of the liberal elite and shunning them. Which is why you have some wingnut showing up in my threads about my CSA here and bragging about how he eats McDonald’s all the time. The point is to make it clear that he would rather have a heart attack than associate with the class and race traitors who have what he considers feminized habits. But as Rick Perlstein has documented, this anger and hatred is spiked through with jealousy. Feelings of insecurity just cause more freaking out, which is why you get the “our women are hotter!!!!!” nonsense. It’s kind of the natural reaction when you’ve cast your enemies as people who lives lives of sensual pleasure and good health, lives that you shun but are hard not to want sometimes for the obvious reasons. So, defensive childish reactions.*
Trying to parse out the meanings of different culture warrior issues is missing the point. I dispute the notion that opposing gay rights or reproductive rights is substantively or philosophically different than opposing the rights of Muslims to build community centers or the inclusion of black people into the social contract or anger about immigration or getting absolutely furious every time they think about the fact that someone who is visibly incapable of being a member of their tribe. The supposedly deep moral values that lead to freaking about sexual rights are just the same old bigotry.
Take, for instance, the opposition to reproductive rights. It’s not substantively different than the opposition to health care reform. Both are rooted in the prioritizing of screwing others over doing better for yourself. The fact that these rights are being used by people, especially women, who they feel have no business having sex is enough to gin up opposition. That members of their own community also need these rights is deemed less important than showing those feminists who’s boss. Same story with health care reform. That universal health care will help them is considered unimportant. The idea that someone outside of the tribe—and therefore automatically undeserving—would access affordable, quality health care is considered too much to bear.
The culture war is like a piano. Just because they’re hitting one note right now doesn’t mean that the other notes are off the table. In fact, just as most piano players can play multiple notes at once, so can wingnuts. That’s what the “anchor babies” crap is about—it’s a chord that touches on resenting female sexuality, anti-immigrant racism, and anger that people that aren’t in the tribe still get to have access to a doctor. Trying to make these up as if they’re all separate or conflicting issues is like trying to pretend that a C and an F can’t be on the same piano.