Can The Culture Wars Be Ended?

The right wing has been waging a culture war against the modern world for decades. Some date the culture war as beginning in the 1990’s with Pat Buchanan announcing the existence of the war at the 1992 Republican National Convention and with the Republicans taking control of Congress. I would consider the culture war as starting with the Nixon administration, where Buchanan also worked, but this is a conflict which as been waged at various levels throughout history.

Social conservatives share two traits: opposition to the modern world and a belief in using the power of the state to impose their views upon others. Therefore we have seen phenomenon such as the culture war whenever the culture has changed, such as in the Roaring 20’s as well as in the 60’s and today.

Ed Kilgore has a pair of posts speculating on whether the culture war can come to an end (here and here) with the discussion spreading to several other blogs. Two possible end points for the culture wars were discussed in some blogs: 1) left and right coming to an agreement over the issues and 2) social conservatism becoming such a rare viewpoint that the have essentially lost the war from the perspective of being able to influence public policy.

The term culture war has as many problems as the term war on terror. Neither is a true war and neither is likely to have a clear end point. The current culture war might seem to end at some point but whenever their is change in society there will be social conservatives who will once again wage war against modernity and who will try to impose the values of the past upon everyone else.

Besides societal change, the other factor which determines the prevalence of the culture war is the relative importance of other issues. When conditions are good, conservatives can get out the vote by raising hot button social issues. People were less likely to vote based upon such issues in 2008 as the economy was deteriorating. People wondering whether they will keep their job are less likely to worry about whether two men or two women can get married. If Obama can end the culture war it won’t necessarily be because he can reach out to the right and get everyone to agree, but possibly because people become more concerned with other issues when voting.

The culture war can  seem to end when the zeitgeist has shifted to the point where certain conservative views are no longer held by anyone beyond the extremes. While some views dominate the culture wars at present, other views are only argued by the extreme right and will no longer motivate a meaningful number of voters. For example, while feminism was once considered a major component of the culture wars, conservatives are far less likely to achieve electoral success by fighting for lower pay for women or other discriminatory measures.While there might be disagreement over specifics, and not all problems are yet solved, the basic ideas of feminism are no longer seen as controversial.

People do not necessarily need to abandon their personal views. What is necessary for the culture war to end is for enough people to abandon the idea that they can use the power of the state to impose their personal and religious views upon others. As

Unlike some liberals, I think people who feel differently deserve a certain amount of respect. But they don’t deserve to have a veto over other people’s rights. If that makes the religious right angry, well, that’s what happens in a liberal democracy.

While the culture war has encompassed additional issues in the past, the current discussion has been centered around three main issues: separation of church and state, gay and lesbian rights, and abortion.

While the goal of the Founding Fathers to form a secular government has been a major part of our national heritage, supported in numerous court decisions along with being clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers,  the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. This is one aspect of the culture wars where Obama has the greatest chance at brokering a peace. As Obama pointed out in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, historically it was often religious leaders who were the strongest defenders of separation of church and state, realizing that this was the best way to ensure that they could practice their religious beliefs free of government intervention.

The acceptance of gay rights appears to be largely a matter of time as younger voters are far more tolerant. It still might take several years, but one day the idea of preventing gay marriage will seem as absurd as many racial ideas of the 1950’s seem today.

The most difficult issue is abortion. Damon Linker has an unexpected recommendation for liberals to end the culture war suggesting “supporting the reversal or significant narrowing of Roe.” The argument is based upon the belief that the primary objection by the religious right is not to abortion itself but to having the issue settled by a ruling of the Supreme Court as opposed to by the legislatures. He believes that if not for Row abortion would cease to be a major issue dividing the country.

I believe the opposite would happen. Without Roe v. Wade abortion would be on the table in a tremendous number of races both for state and national office. We’d have a constant battle as each side would seek to have a majority for their side to change the law, and abortion could become an issue in a tremendous number of races. At present a candidate’s views on abortion are not necessarily a deciding factor since Roe v. Wade prevents legislatures from denying the fundamental right of a woman to control her own body.

Linker makes a mistake in believing conservative rhetoric as to how they justify their positions. Conservatives work backwards from their ultimate goal and then latch upon concepts such as Federalism or opposition to what they see as judicial overreach only when it supports their viewpoint.

Conservatives support states’ rights only when it serves their ends. If state government can be used to impose their views upon others while the federal government backs a more tolerant policy, conservatives will defend states’ rights. If we had a federal government which was trying to restrict freedoms while state governments objected, conservatives would side with the federal government.

Conservatives sided with southern states to prevent integration. On the other hand, when the federal government raids those using medicinal marijuana in states where it is legal conservatives will argue that federal law trumps state law. Conservatives had no problem when the Supreme Court ignored Florida law and ignored basic principles of federalism as well as democracy in making George Bush president. Eliminate Roe v. Wade and the conservatives will lose one talking point, but will push just as hard to impose their views upon others.

If we are to end the culture wars, it will happen because too few people care about the issues of the social conservatives to vote based upon them. This might occur due to shifts in opinion over time, or it could occur because bigger issues dominate the elections. This will not necessarily mean a total end to the culture war as there will always be those who oppose the modern world and those who believe they have the right to impose their social views upon others.

Tom Daschle’s Tax Problems Worse Than Initially Reported

Tom Daschle’s tax problems are looking a lot more significant today as additional errors have been revealed. Political Punch reports:

The report indicates that Daschle’s failure to pay more than $101,000 taxes on the car and driver a wealthy friend let him use from 2005 through 2007 is not the only tax issue the former Senate Majority Leader has been dealing with since his December nomination prompted a more thorough examination of his income tax returns.

Mr. Daschle also didn’t report $83,333 in consulting income in 2007.

The Senate Finance Committee Report also notes that during the vetting process, President Obama’s Transition Team “identified certain donations that did not qualify as charitable deductions because they were not paid to qualifying organizations.  Daschle adjusted his contribution deductions on his amended returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 to remove these amounts and add additional contributions.” This adjustment meant a reduction in the amount he contributed to charitable foundations of $14,963 from 2005 through 2007. With the unreported income from the use of a car service in the amounts of $73,031 in 2005, $89,129 in 2006 and $93,096 in 2007; the unreported consulting income of $83,333 in 2007; and the adjusted reductions in charitable contributions, Daschle adds a total of $353,552 in additional income and reduced donations, meaning an additional tax payment of $128,203, in addition to $11,964 in interest.

On January 2 of this year, Daschle filed amended tax returns to pay the $140,167 in unpaid taxes.

After the initial reports came out which were limited to failure to pay taxes for the car and driver the conventional wisdom was that Daschle would still be confirmed. This was expected as Senators tend to go softer on those who have been in their club and he Daschle is close to Harry Reid. Now his fate is not as clear. So far the track record for cabinet nominees running into scandals has been 50:50 with Bill Richardson pulling out and Timothy Geithner being confirmed.

It is too early to say if these relevations will prevent Daschle’s confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services. If it does prevent confirmation it raises a couple of additional questions. If he is not confirmed, will he still keep his West Wing position as health-reform czar, which might be a more important post than being in the cabinet? In the event that Daschle winds up without either job, how will this impact Obama administration attempts at health care reform?

Michael Steele, Nazi Doctors, Stem Cell Research, and Abortion


I’ve written many posts recently predicting that if the social conservatives continue to dominate the Republican Party they will remain a regional party of the south and Mormon-belt of the west (currently their only safe states), or possibly go the way of the Whigs. Many Republicans appear to understand the problems they face and are seeking to change the look of the GOP. One move in that direction is the election of Michael Steele as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Steele is a pro-life conservative, opposing abortion even in case of rape and incest. This is hardly a radical change, but many observers such as Marc Ambinder do see this as meaningful:

Even more than race, even as Steele lauded the party’s conservative members, his election marks a step away from the balkanized Southern white ethos of the party. Steele, pro-life, has worked with moderate Republicans all of his life, although he did his best during the campaign to minimize those ties. If he reverts to form, it means that the RNC has just selected a chairman who will not prioritize social issues above economic issues.  When people speak of broadening the party’s geographic diversity, they are speaking in code. They mean that the party needs to welcome more moderates; needs to be more forgiving of departures from orthodoxy; need to be less antagonistic to pro-choicers and gays.

The question is whether this will be enough. Even if they don’t make restriction of abortion rights and discrimination against gays their primary issues, a party which still advocates such positions will remain an unacceptable choice.

Steele might be more moderate than some Republicans running around but, considering how extreme the GOP has become in recent years, this leaves room for someone to still be a right wing extremist even if they are not the most reactionary person in the room.

Ben Smith received the Maryland Democratic Party’s opposition research book from Michael Steele’s 2006 race for Senate (full book in pdf form here). Smith points out this item:

While speaking to the Baltimore Jewish Council, Michael Steele compared doctors conducting stem cell research to Nazis performing human experiments during the Holocaust: “You of all folks know what happens when people decide to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool.” [Associated Press, 2/10/06]


Steele reportedly changed his position after he said the above and began to support embryonic stem cell research. His views are also contradictory with regards to banning gay marriage at the federal level or leaving this to the states to ban (with banning at some level apparently being the only options on the table for him):

Steele: Gay Marriage Is A State Issue, But Supports A Federal Amendment. In August 2004, the Washington Times reported that, “[Steele] said each state should decide the issue, but added that he supports President Bush’s efforts in calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage,  because some states are unwilling to act.” [Washington Times, 8/26/04]

Stressing economic issues as opposed to social issues would be an improvement for the GOP, but only if they can drop their social conservative positions as easily as Steele dropped his objection to embryonic stem cell research. Some believe that conservatives who are so out of touch with reality to equate abortion with “baby killing” can never drop their opposition to abortion. If Steele can drop his objection to stem cell research after equating it with Nazi doctors and the Holocaust, then perhaps other Republicans can moderate their views on abortion.

Glenn Beck Drove Away Viewers

Steve Benen notes that “Glenn Beck’s ratings on CNN Headline News were so weak, his largely-unknown replacement is already generating better numbers.” That’s no surprise. While Beck might bring in more viewers at Fox, anywhere else I’d expect him to have a negative influence on ratings. I’d expect viewers at HLN to change the channel just because Beck is on. As long as someone doesn’t have the negative influence of someone like Glenn Beck, ratings are likely to be better.

Posted in News Media. Tags: , . 7 Comments »

Samantha Power Returns To Work With The Monster

I’ve previously noted that the appointment of Cass Sunstein to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, beyond his somewhat libertarian views on regulation, was potentially beneficial as this would bring his wife  Samantha Power to Washington–just in case Obama needed any reminder that Hillary Clinton is a monster. Obama is reportedly going to appoint Power to be senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

The appointment of Power also restores the  Austan-Power influence on the Obama administration which had previously been present during his campaign. As James Joyner suggests, this appointment is also consistent with speculation that foreign policy will be run from the White House as opposed to the Clinton State Department.

Reaching Out to Republicans

The House passed the stimulus package without a single Republican vote in favor. Several liberal blogs have questioned why Obama bothered to speak with Republicans and consider their views in the plan. The lack of Republican votes does not mean that Obama was wrong to speak to Republicans or to compromise.

Influencing Republicans means more than the Republicans in the House. The House Republicans are primarily from safe Republican districts and are more interested in pleasing their base. There are many voters, or at least were  in the past, who have identified themselves as Republicans, but are not as extreme as these Congressional Republicans. While GOP identification is currently way down, there is a large number of voters who have voted Republican in the recent past and may do so again in the future. They are swing voters who could continue with their new identification as Democrats or could return to voting Republican in the future. In order to continue to receive these votes, Democrats must convince these swing voters that they now represent the positions which caused them to vote Republican in the past. If Democrats ignored all their views they would be more likely to return to voting Republican in the future.

One way to get former Republican voters to continue to vote Democratic  is to incorporate some moderate Republican views in their legislation. If the House Republicans then vote against the measure they are the ones who look extreme and unwilling to compromise for the public good.

Democrats complained for years when the Republicans ruled without consideration of their views. They would look no better if they followed the same course when in power. At the moment, by reaching out to Republicans, Obama looks like the one governing from the center and above petty partisan battles while the Republicans continue to look like extremists who place partisan goals over the good of the country.

Jessica Alba Outsmarts Bill O’Reilly


Jessica Alba has shown that she can defeat Bill O’Reilly as easily as she can beat the Silver Surfer, especially if the challenge is a history quiz:

Jessica Alba is setting the record straight: Sweden was neutral during World War II.

Alba and Fox TV show host Bill O’Reilly traded punches last week after the presidential inauguration. After Alba told a Fox reporter that O’Reilly was “kind of an a-hole;” he retaliated by calling her a “pinhead” for telling a reporter to “be Sweden about it,” assuming she meant Switzerland.

“I want to clear some things up that have been bothering me lately,” Alba blogged on MySpace Celebrity. “Last week, Mr. Bill O’Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e.TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country. I appreciate the fact that he is a news anchor and that gossip sites are inundated with intelligent reporting, but seriously people… it’s so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland.”

Although Switzerland is more frequently cited as an example of neutrality, Sweden did indeed follow a policy of neutrality during World War II. History point to Alba.

Somewhat Related Post: Mathematicians Prove Jessica Alba’s Perfection

Can Republicans Benefit From Redistricting When They Are Down To Only Five Red States?


Republicans are hopeful that they can improve their chances of retaking the House following redistricting in 2010, just as they used redistricting to solidify their majority in 2000.

Republicans could benefit due to the move of people towards states Republicans used to dominate, especially if we see the usual gains for the party out of power in off year elections.

On the other hand this might not work out well for Republicans if current trends continue. Gallup shows an overwhelming advantage for Democrats in party identification in most states. The poll found that “only five states had solid or leaning Republican orientations in 2008, with Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska in the former group, and Nebraska in the latter.” Click on above map for larger version showing the shrinking of red America.

The Democratic Conspiracy To Prop Up Limbaugh and Palin

First Read sees identifying Republicans with Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin as an effective strategy:

One of the things Republicans did very effectively during their 24-year run from ’80 to ’04 was define who the opposition was, whether it was raising the profile of a Michael Moore or a Jesse Jackson or someone from the most liberal or divisive wing of the Democratic Party (see Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton). Well, it appears Democrats in general, and President Obama specifically, seems to enjoy propping up two of the more divisive figures in the Republican Party, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. The more attention a Palin or a Limbaugh gets right now, the harder it will be for the Republican Party to pitch itself as a Big Tent party again. This is a dangerous period for the GOP, the party is, well, without definition. Is it a less-government, low-tax, fiscally responsible party? It’s hard to make that case after the last decade of governing. Because it’s hard to define the GOP on issues right now, it becomes easier for the Democrats to paint the GOP with the brush of a personality like Limbaugh and Palin.

If this was a conscious strategy it would make sense. Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin both represent the worst of the conservative movement. Expressing a hope that Obama fail is only the most recent example of how much Limbaugh despises America and the values this country stands for. A party led by Sarah Palin is far more likely to go the way of the Whigs than ever win a national election as long as the average I.Q. of the voters is greater than 70. As Michael Tomasky wrote in ranking her as the second Worst American of 2008:

Never in my adult lifetime has one politician so perfectly embodied everything that is malign about my country: the proto-fascist nativism, the know-nothingism, the utterly cavalier lack of knowledge about the actual principles on which the country was founded.

It would certainly be beneficial for the Democrats to identify Republicans with Sarah Palin, but can the prominence of Limbaugh and Palin really be written off as a Democratic conspiracy to prop them up? Rush Limbaugh has had a large following for years. In the previous post I noted that Limbaugh is Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini’s choice to replace William Kristol at The New York TImes.

Sarah Palin has also attracted considerable support among those on the extreme right. While polls at this point are more a measure of current interest than predictive of future success, a recent poll showed Palin a close second to Mike Huckabee for the 2012 Republican nomination. Now we even have SarahPac, which is certainly not a Democratic plot  to ensure that Palin remains prominent in the GOP.

My Vote For William Kristol’s Replacement: Megan McArdle

The New York Times made the correct choice in dumping William Kristol. That’s not because he’s a conservative. I would hate to see them do the same to David Brooks, who can write excellent columns on the days when he doesn’t feel obligated to bash Democrats as opposed to dealing with ideas. William Kristol turned out to be a terrible writer whose entire columns consisted of writing which was too much like the portions of David Brooks’ work which I could do without and none of what makes Brooks worth reading.

It certainly makes sense for The New York Times to include conservative or libertarian thought on its op-ed page to provide for a diversity of viewpoints, especially with the current Democratic domination of government. A number of names are now being thrown around.

The worst suggestion was from Patrick Ruffini for Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh shares all of Kristol’s faults and adds still more. William Kristol at least had a chance to promote conservative beliefs before quickly demonstrating that his column was not worth reading. Limbaugh’s reputation, and past work, will guarantee that nothing he writes will be taken seriously.

Some conservatives like the idea of driving liberals nuts, thinking that they derive some benefit from people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin who liberals (and all other thinking people) will not take seriously. Conservatives would be better off with a conservative columnist who does not immediately turn off a liberal readership, and who has a chance of influencing readers if they should make a strong argument.

Of the names floating around I like Megan McArdle, a blogger at The Atlantic,  the best. To a considerable degree this is because she leans libertarian as opposed to being a social conservative. New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal has said he admires the work of Megan McArdle, along with Byron York (and I certainly prefer Megan of the two).

While writers such as Kristol and Limbaugh (and Brooks on a bad day) primarily seek to demonize liberals, Megan can engage liberals in serious debate as she seeks to understand their views even when disagreeing. Her objection to liberal views can be seen as providing value in forcing liberals to answer tough questions and perhaps refine their views. An example can be seen in yesterday’s post on the stimulus plan.

If forced to move on to other names under consideration and to move to more conventional conservative as opposed to libertarian thought, Peggy Noonan would be a fine choice. While I might often disagree with her, I would never say she is a terrible writer as I did about Kristol. Having a prominent conservative columnist exposing Sarah Palin’s deficiencies is also of value. The biggest problem is that this would just be a lateral move for Noonan from one major New York paper to another. It would not provide another conservative columnist worth reading a national audience.

Among other names being floated which are far better than Rush Limbaugh are David Frum and Ross Douthat (also of The Atlantic).If we are going to consider bloggers from The Atlantic, how about going with a conservative who actually drives many conservatives nuts–Andrew Sullivan?