Friday, February 24, 2012

Will the Culture War Soon Turn Hot?

Perhaps the most galling trend to yet take hold of the obscene clown show that America’s national politics has become is the sudden widespread assault against women’s reproductive rights. Abortion has been always been a hot button issue going back to the days of Rowe vs. Wade, of course, reflecting the religious right’s frustration at being unable to overturn the ruling despite the country’s rightward political shift over the past four decades. But until recently, most Republican politicians with national ambitions were smart enough to be content with merely pandering on the issue, knowing that actually repealing abortion rights and returning the country to the days when scared young women routinely died in illegal back alley clinics was a political loser.

The recent crumbling of the restraint on the part of the Republican Party, however, has been shocking in its breadth and scope. No longer content with just the occasional demagoguery on the issue, Republican controlled legislative bodies around the country have launched an all out assault in various ways, politics apparently be damned. What’s worse is that they have also felt emboldened to go beyond just attacking abortion to even going after birth control. It’s as if the party which a generation ago was still almost universally represented by white males has decided that now that it has plenty of prominent women in its highest ranks, those women and all others should go back to the days of being perpetually barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

This insanity taking hold of the Republican Party was dramatically illustrated yet again during the most recent presidential debate. Here is Talking Points Memo with the details:
On Wednesday, contraception became the latest topic to raise the ire of conservative debate goers.

During a CNN-sponsored Republican presidential debate in Arizona, the crowd booed wildly at the mention of birth control.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used the opportunity to attack the moderators as he had done in almost every other debate in this campaign cycle.

“Not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide,” Gingrich complained.

CNN moderator John King neglected to note that several organization have debunked the claim that President Barack Obama ever supported a so-called “infanticide” provision in an Illinois measure that would have required doctors to administer medical treatment to fetuses that survived an abortion.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the Obama administration’s decision to have all health plans cover contraception for women an “attack on religious conscience.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama,” the candidate explained.

For his part, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum defended his earlier remarks about “the dangers of contraception.”
“The crowd booed wildly at the mention of birth control.” Just like when, in earlier debates, they cheered at the idea of letting a comatose man without health insurance die, or cheered at the idea of U.S. soldiers pissing on the bodies of dead Afghans, or cheered Rick Perry’s reckless execution record in Texas, or cheered the removal of restrictions on child labor, or cheered the idea of Americans waterboarding prisoners.

By now a pattern is emerging that should make any thinking person’s blood run cold. As the real economic conditions in this country have slowly deteriorated, the mood on the far right of the political spectrum has been gradually turning darker and meaner.

Many mainstream pundits would no doubt say that the bad temper of the right wing is similar now to how it was during Bill Clinton’s first term in office, which saw the rise of the militia movements around the country. They would no doubt add that all it took was one shocking event (the Oklahoma City bombing) and a rapidly improving economy from 1995 forward through the rest of the decade to largely defuse that anger. There have been periodic bouts of right wing demagoguery throughout our history, they would additionally assert, but in the end American politics always corrects itself and sanity eventually returns to our public discourse.

As a student of history, I completely agree with that as an interpretation of history. Even Joseph McCarthy was eventually dethroned and discredited for taking his attacks too far after politically terrorizing Washington for the first half of the 1950s.

But, and here is the rub: it isn’t 1956 anymore, or even 1996. The difference between the bout of extreme right wing anger we see today and those of previous generations is that there will be no economic recovery to create the conditions that will allow a restoration of that supposed sanity to our national politics. The beginning of the long era of permanent economic contraction means that the root cause of this explosion in right wing fury, severe economic distress, is just going to be exacerbated from this point on as people continue to lose their jobs and gasoline prices soar to previously unknown heights.

Those who dismiss the idea that true fascism could ever take hold in the United States point out that our representative democracy has far deeper roots than say, Weimar Germany, in which democracy was artificially imposed on an authoritarian culture in the wake of a massive military defeat. This is, of course, yet another accurate assessment of history. The problem with putting too much stock in history, however, is that sometimes it does NOT adhere to the old cliche and repeat itself, but instead begins to write its own new narrative, such as when the Bolsheviks seized control of Imperial Russia.

The end of economic growth in not just the United States but the entire world is a crisis unprecedented in human history. There will be no eventual return to normalcy this time. How exactly it will all play out is anyone’s guess, but this writer’s guess is that one thing we may well see in the near future is America’s long running culture war begin to turn hot, erupting into widespread violence which will then threaten to engulf us all.

Bonus: This little ditty from the dawn of the culture wars describes the forming battle lines remarkably well. Too bad it was recorded by a guy who eventually switched sides


  1. My 79 year old mom was commenting on all of this the other day. She said...."I remember these terrible discussions 50 years ago. Why is this happening again?" I'll admit I've been blown away that they are now advancing candidates who have issues with birth control. Did not see that one coming!

    I've never subscribed to the elite depopulation program so many doomers believe in. I think they want squalor and large amounts of disposable labor, and this would help with that. Not that mass deaths won't occur on this path...

    It sure distracts the left when a topic like this is brought up (makes the corporate guy in office seem okay in comparison), I guess. So it's win/win for the ones who would never have to abide by the rules for the masses however it all turns out.

    This last bout of insanity just leaves me profoundly sad, though. The sane, kindred spirits are just too few and far between in this nation. Everyone seems bogged down with just existing and critical thought is gone.

    I work with a right wing nut who parroted the "infanticide" thing just yesterday from that debate. I'm just so tired.

    How messed up is it when the only remedy you can come up with in your wildest imagination is benevolent alien intervention? I'm only 1/2 kidding.

    1. I think there was a tongue-in-cheek oil production chart produced awhile back by one of the peak oil sites which showed alien intervention as the only possible "cure" for the inevitable crash in production. :)

  2. Haha OOPS! I guess I picked the wrong moment to promote a movie warning about overpopulation!

  3. Actually, we are definitely going to be returning to "normalcy", that is, the conditions that were pretty much normal before humans discovered fossil fuels. It may take another century or so to get there, or, if we continue to make the same kinds of asinine decisions we have been making for the last few decades, it may happen much more quickly. Either way, ...

    Personally, I'm not sure I believe that the country has drifted that far right. I think we've always been a slightly right of center, but mostly moderate nation, more or less a bell curve with nut jobs well out on the distribution on either end. What I think has happened is that we have seen a growth in the 2+-sigma nut jobs on the right. The distribution as grown a new bump way out on the right, sort of like a tumor. The tumor has become increasingly annoying, nasty and painful. These people are claiming to love American, while very obviously hating everything American (especially all the citizens other than themselves). Eventually, if the tumor continues to grow, we will see an infection (perhaps we are seeing it now, perhaps not) that will sicken the body. At some point, I expect the centrist majority in the body to have had enough, and to decide that the time has come to treat the infection and cut out the tumor. These kinds of battles can last a long time, with a lot of pain and suffering. How much and how long? Well, like medicine, that depends on how soon we recognize the problem and begin the treatment.

    The current level of political discourse does not provide much in the way of hope. Unless, of course, you believe that the election of one of the lunatics from the Republican party, or the re-election of the disappointment from the Democratic party, might spur the masses to action. Kunstler thinks this is the year and that the national political conventions may be the spark. Could happen. But this is a bit country, with a lot of intertia. I suspect (and fear) that it can and will continue down the current road much, much further than prudence would suggest, and much further than most sane people think it can or should.

    1. "I suspect (and fear) that it can and will continue down the current road much, much further than prudence would suggest, and much further than most sane people think it can or should."

      Actually, nearly four years after the financial crash, it ALREADY feels like it has continued on for far longer than it should have.

    2. "...returning to "normalcy", that is, the conditions that were pretty much normal before humans discovered fossil fuels."

      I don't think that will ever happen, because the ecosystem that people relied on back then is gone. Even with a much smaller population (MUCH smaller) of humans, it was still not easy to survive - and compared to what we have left today, there were infinite forests, animals, birds, fish, whales, wild grains and berries and fruits, deep topsoil, clean water and air.

      Almost all of that is gone through habitat destruction and industrial agriculture, and what's left is going to be rendered uninhabitable by extreme floods and droughts from climate change.

      If I thought we could return to the good ole days after a temporary crash, I'd die peacefully.


    1. Scary--kind of like those who sing along enthusiastically to "Proud to Be an American" at football games.