Ann was gracious enough to quote me in her marvelous piece on why the culture war isn’t going away any time soon, so I’m kicking a link right back at her. Ann argues that the Obama backlash, in all its ugliness, is proof that the culture war was always about a lot more than gay rights or abortion, but was always fundamentally about who gets to lay claim to defining who “real Americans” are and what the larger values of the country are going to be. I don’t think that the recent conservative affectation for dressing up in colonial garb* has as much to do with taxes as they’re pretending. For one thing, the Boston Tea Partiers weren’t actually protesting high taxes, and even a quick glance over Wikipedia demonstrates this. Tea taxes were just a catalyst for a lot of other issues of much greater importance that fundamentally go back to the basic desire of Americans to cease being colonized by the British.
You might even say they were anti-colonialist.
Anyway, the revolutionary garb has a more profound significance to the teabaggers, which is that it a) makes them feel like they’re totally capable of violent revolt and b) it stands in for the kind of people they want to say are the only “real” Americans—white Christians, with Anglo-Saxons getting extra-special Real American status. When they bemoan the ways that America has changed that couldn’t have been foreseen by voting citizens back then, it’s easy enough to conjure up a list of things that really would have been beyond the imagination of even imaginative people like Thomas Jefferson. But “beyond their imagination” says more about the limits of the human imagination than it does the value of these changes.
The main thing I want to say on this is that every time anyone ever predicted that the end of the culture war was just around the corner, I rolled my eyes. I get that people are sick and tired of it, and that’s why they invest in ideas like, “Electing Barack Obama will bring an end to the culture wars”, which is what Ann quotes Andrew Sullivan basically saying. But too bad. Politics isn’t your entertainment. The culture wars aren’t some movie that you’ve seen so many times that it’s lost its entertainment value, and so you can just change the channel. The culture wars are going to drag out for a long ass time for a number of reasons. One is that the social changes that we’re going through are too profound to be absorbed so rapidly. Tracy Clark-Flory was mourning over this pronouncement by Gloria Steinem that women aren’t going to be seeing full equality for another century and a half, but I thought Gloria may be a tad optimistic. We’re overthrowing literally thousands of years of a patriarchy. It’s not going to happen very fast. Even in the time that the Tea Crackers have so much nostalgia for, there were feminists making arguments that would still be considered radical by many today. And that’s just when it comes to feminism! What’s particularly ironic about the Tea Crackers hearkening back to the revolutionary era is that the wheels were already turning towards the changes they don’t like so much. Conservatives benefit tremendously from the myth that the culture wars are relatively new. Then they can pretend that there’s something fundamentally different about the various progressive struggles of the past and the struggles of today. But in reality, it’s one long, ongoing struggle. And we’re just going to have accept that, and accept that it’s unlikely that we’ll see the conclusion of this in our lifetimes, or that we’re even close to a day when people can say, “Well, hundreds of years of struggle for justice is finally complete, and there it is, real justice.”
*Here’s what I don’t get: If teabaggers are, as they claim, simply referencing the Boston Tea Party, then why do you never, ever see a single one wearing a costume referencing the Mohawk tribe of Native Americans? After all, that’s exactly what the actual raiding members of the Boston Tea Party actually did. I don’t imagine that it’s solely because teabaggers are aware of the unpleasant racial implications of doing such a thing, because teabaggers aren’t a group really known for their racial sensitivities. I think it’s because they don’t care about the actual Boston Tea Party. It’s just a convenient cover for nostalgia for a time when only white male landowners had the vote and slavery was legal.