Gary Kamiya has a good article up at Salon about how McCain is reviving the culture war with Sarah Palin, and how frightfully enduring the culture war seems to be, able to revive dead Republicans that are besieged by ill-advised wars and economic ruin. And he’s right, it is frightening, especially if it works.
But I have a question: Isn’t Barack Obama enough for the culture warriors?
As Kamiya outlines, culture wars are not about positive things. Culture warriors aren’t voting for something—they’re voting against enemies established for them by fundamentalist preachers and right wing talk radio. If the Republicans truly feared that they couldn’t get the minions out to keep a black man out of office (and let’s not forget—racial hierarchies are critical to the culture warriors), especially one with a funny name that culture warriors believe is a sign that he’s a secret Muslim (who they’ve deemed the Satanic enemy that must be defeated to bring Jesus back). Isn’t voting out of fear and loathing for Barack Obama enough for them? I would think yes. And so I’m feeling more persuaded that the post-Palin jump in the polls is temporary.
I want to address the ideas in this paragraph:
The culture war is driven by resentment, on the one hand, and crude identification, on the other. Resentment of “elites,” “Washington insiders” and overeducated coastal snobs goes hand in hand with an unreflective, emotional identification with candidates who “are just like me.” Large numbers of Americans voted for Bush because he seemed like a regular guy, someone you’d want to have a beer with. As Thomas Frank argued in “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” ideology also played a role. As hard-line “moral values” exponent and former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer told the New York Times, “Joe Six-Pack doesn’t understand why the world and his culture are changing and why he doesn’t have a say in it.” The GOP appealed to Joe Six-Pack by harping on cultural issues like the “three Gs,” gods, guns and gays.
I liked “What’s The Matter With Kansas” and really adore Frank’s new book “The Wrecking Crew”, but there is one flaw in the idea that the “three Gs” culture war is mainly a distraction, a way for people to lash out at increasing modernity. I don’t think you can really understand the three Gs without understanding the tensions that are underlying them. “Guns” is a code word that has both aspects of anxious masculinity and racism in it—gun fetishists imagine themselves holed up protecting their female property from hoardes of grabby non-white men. This especially an important aspect that the NRA tries to conceal from the public with images of hunting, but sport guns aren’t on the list of those things that people want to restrict nearly so much as assault weapons. With god and gays, though, I think the missing “W” or “F”—for women or feminism—explains a lot.
I know I sound like a broken record on this, but a lot of the social issues are actually economic issues, if looked at in the right light. It’s true that economic decline contributes to the red state sense that people are being left in the dust, causing them to lash out at “liberal elites”. But it’s also true that feminist advances have weaseled their way into conservative communities, and the subsequent transfer of so much power from men to women* happened at the same time as the economic decline and is, in the minds of many culture warriors, inseparable. So much of the nostalgia for the mythical 50s is a belief that things were just better when women provided a disempowered, unpaid labor force. Of course, the genie is out the bottle now, and anyway, women’s salaries are needed to keep so many families afloat, so attacking the power shift directly isn’t so easy at it might seem.
What’s fascinating to me is that from what I understand, the gay marriage movement probably gained all its steam from conservatives bellyaching about the possibility of this happening once gays got rights. Why was gay marriage such a fear? I think we can take social conservatives at their word on this—gay marriage is an assault on “traditional marriage”. It’s a scapegoat cause for all the various forces that have dismantled traditional, male-dominated marriage where women have very little power or income, but lots of work to do. And let’s face it. Feminism may have shifted the balance of power, but men still have more of it in marriage. Women still do more of the housework and child-rearing, and men still enjoy the ability to make final decisions for the family. When conservatives say that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, I suspect what they mean is that de-gendered marriage will start giving women more ideas about what marriage could look like between equals. I’m skeptical that the monolith of male-dominated heterosexual marriage will be that easy to topple, but they do have a point that it’ll help.
That and reproductive rights are the big issues that drive so many culture warriors. I say no duh it’s about making sure that women are put in a subservient position to men, especially those who claim them through the magical powers of penetration. Get ’em married early by making childbirth mandatory, putting women in a position where they have to marry. And make sure those marriages stay unequal by barring people from it who have a different model of marriage entirely. Some liberals scoff at the idea that Republicans will deliver these goals to social conservatives, on the theory that they won’t have anymore issues to drive them to the polls with. Wrong! If they are able to put gay marriage to bed and criminalize abortion, next on the list are challenges to no-fault divorce and female-controlled contraception.
Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough about it. Here’s more reading on Sarah Palin so that you can see what a vile sister-punisher and homophobe she is. I was curious how Palin, who belongs to a Bible-thumping “STFU ladies” church, reconciled the Christian mandate to be submissive to your husband with the fact that she outranked him as governor. Looks like she might do it by letting him make the final decisions about how she does her job. Scary.
*Mind you, men still have more power than women. But it’s more like 60/40 or 70/30 instead of 90/10 nowadays.