Tag Archives: culture war

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.

 

 

Thank God It’s A Short Session…..

Yesterday, I posted about one of the more odious bills being considered by Indiana’s legislature.

It’s just one example of why I always get an uneasy feeling when Indiana’s General Assembly is in session. Indiana’s legislators are an unpredictable mix; there are some thoughtful people who can genuinely be characterized as public servants, and then there are the others–religious zealots, wheeler-dealers, and a collection of rabid partisans for whom politics is a sport and their only loyalty is to their team.

This year, the legislature meets for its 60-day short session. (In Indiana, regular and short sessions alternate.) The fact that time to consider bills is limited, however, doesn’t prevent our culture warriors from introducing divisive and/or ridiculous proposals, which is one reason why Harrison Ullmann, the now-deceased editor of NUVO, our local alternative paper, always referred to Indiana’s General Assembly as “the World’s Worst Legislature.”

It isn’t just Rep. Soliday’s proposed gift to coal companies. A week or so ago, I posted about a bill authored by one Representative Curt Nisly–in addition to prohibiting all abortions, the bill presumed to forbid the courts to declare the measure unconstitutional or the executive branch to enforce any such court decisions if made. While I grant that the degree of constitutional ignorance displayed by that measure puts Nisly in a class of his own, plenty of other bills  demonstrate the often bizarre, corrupt and/or inhumane priorities of too many Indiana lawmakers.

In the “bizarre” category, the Northwest Indiana Times reports, tongue firmly in cheek:

The Indiana House is poised to vote Tuesday on what may be the most significant piece of pro-worker legislation since Republicans took majority control of the chamber in 2011.

It’s not an increase in the state’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, unchanged since 2009. It’s not a requirement that businesses provide employees with their work schedules a week in advance. And it certainly won’t make it easier for workers to organize into unions and collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

Instead, House Bill 1143 would expressly prohibit an employer from requiring an employee, or a job candidate, to have an identification or tracking device implanted in their body as a condition of employment.

According to the Legislative Services Agency, there are currently no employers in the U.S. requiring such implantation. But hey–it might happen. You never know…

The ACLU of Indiana has a list of pending bills that threaten civil liberties, including one that Doug Masson analyzes at Masson’s Blog prohibiting persons born biologically male from competing in school sports contests against females. As he concludes:

As far as I can tell, this legislation isn’t so much an effort to address a real problem as it is simply a vehicle for expressing unhappiness that society is increasingly recognizing that gender identity is not perfectly correlated with biological sex.

Indiana’s lawmakers tend to be fixated on issues around sex and sexuality. Case in point is a measure that definitely belongs in the “inhumane” category: Indiana Senate Bill 300. This effort to allow discrimination in the service of (certain people’s) religion would allow mental health professionals to turn away clients seeking emergency services for suicide prevention and emergency interventions, “on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, those who have received reproductive services, those who are divorced, etc.”

Ironically titled “Conscience protection for mental health providers” the measure would prohibit a hospital or other employer from discriminating against or disciplining such a professional because of the “sincerely held ethical, moral, or religious belief” that impelled that “professional” (note quotation marks) to withhold emergency assistance to desperate people of whom he or she “sincerely” disapproves.

Indiana’s public schools are underfunded. Our teachers are underpaid. Indiana’s infrastructure is crumbling. Hoosiers are embarrassingly unhealthy. The opiod epidemic has been brutal here. I could go on and on.

But thanks primarily to gerrymandering, those issues get short shrift. The bills referenced above are a very small sample of the damaging nonsense that our legislators prefer to address, and that we Hoosiers have come to expect.

At least it’s a short session….

When Politics Becomes A Culture War

I have my favorites among the columnists who write for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I’ll admit that Tom Friedman has never been one of them. It isn’t that I disagree with him any more frequently than I disagree with others; he simply tends to address issues with which I’m less engaged, and to do so in a hectoring manner I find annoying.

I do think, however, that he hit this one “out of the park” as the saying goes.

The column was titled “A President With No Shame and a Party With No Guts,” which gives you a pretty good hint about the subject matter.

If your puppy makes a mess on your carpet and you shout “Bad dog,” there is a good chance that that puppy’s ears will droop, his head will bow and he may even whimper. In other words, even a puppy acts ashamed when caught misbehaving. That is not true of Donald Trump. Day in and day out, he proves to us that he has no shame. We’ve never had a president with no shame — and it’s become a huge source of power for him and trouble for us.

And what makes Trump even more powerful and problematic is that this president with no shame is combined with a party with no spine and a major network with no integrity — save for a few real journalists at Fox News like the outstanding Chris Wallace.

When a president with no shame is backed by a party with no spine and a network with no integrity, you have two big problems.

Those three paragraphs go a long way toward summing up where Americans find ourselves these days. But the observation that really struck me was this one:

The G.O.P. has lost its way because it has been selling itself for years to whoever could keep it in power, and that is now Trump and his base. And Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics, and culture doesn’t change with the news cycle. And neither do business models — and Fox News’s business model is to feed, and feed off of, that culture war by allowing many of its commentators to be Trump’s parrots and bullhorns.

This, it seems to me, is the real problem, and it may be intractable.

Ever since the stunning result of the 2016 Presidential election, I have tried–and miserably failed–to understand how any sentient being could have voted for Donald Trump, a man so obviously unfit for office (not to mention polite society) that people who knew anything at all about government and/or business considered his candidacy a joke.

This is a man who makes polite people cringe and kind people recoil. If someone like Trump tried to strike up a conversation at a bar, most of us would change seats. He’s like the ignorant, self-absorbed uncle you don’t invite for Thanksgiving, because you don’t want your children to think his “all about me” behavior is acceptable.

I understand that hatred for Hillary Clinton (nurtured by misogynists for years) may have motivated some voters to cast that vote–but how do you explain the 30% of Americans who still support him? Fox News can spin–or ignore–the news, but you would expect anyone reading his misspelled tweets or listening to his delusional “word salad” speeches to be appalled.

I think Friedman answers that question when he writes that “Trump’s base actually hates the people who hate Trump — i.e., liberals who they think look down on members of the base — more than it cares about Trump. This is about culture, not politics.”

If he is correct–if Trump’s support comes from people who hold deep animus toward those they dismiss as “elitist” and “cosmopolitan” and who are more interested in “sticking it” to people they believe fall into those groups than in good or even adequate government– they aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to wake up one morning and say “gee, maybe sticking it to those snobs isn’t worth doing irreparable damage to the country and the planet.” They are lost to reason.

If Friedman is right–if this is culture war– efforts to right the ship of state need to be focused on the 49% of eligible voters who didn’t bother to cast a ballot in 2016.  I can only hope that Trump has been their wake-up call.

Baseball and Politics

Thursday night, my husband went with several other family members to the opening of the Indianapolis Indians’ baseball season. As he–and several media outlets–subsequently reported, Governor Pence also attended, and the announcement of his presence generated loud and emphatic boos from the assembled crowd.

That booing underlines a political lesson we might sum up as: live by social issues, die by social issues. (I may be “over-analyzing” this; if so, chalk it up to twenty years of teaching public administration.)

Here’s what I mean: When we elect people to administrative offices–mayor, governor, President–we rarely base our subsequent evaluations of their job performance on the efficiency or effectiveness of the agencies controlled by those offices. Ideally, of course, we would, but most of the time, we aren’t in a position to know whether the city issued improper drainage permits, or the state failed to enforce environmental standards, spent limited resources on frivolous lawsuits, etc.

Unless we are members of a constituency that is directly aware of or affected by administrative incompetence, we are unlikely to recognize it, so we generally don’t base our opinions or cast our votes on the basis of perceived management skills. We don’t even base our votes on candidates’ policy preferences–unless those policies implicate so-called “hot button” issues.

This dichotomy between the mundane, albeit important, administrative skills needed for effective governance and the passions that characterize disputes over social issues poses an under-appreciated  danger for culture warriors like Indiana’s Governor.

Run-of-the-mill administrative incompetence is unlikely to motivate widespread passionate opposition, no matter how damaging and/or costly poor governance may be.Over-the-top forays into the culture wars, however–especially when those highly-visible and clearly unconstitutional efforts can be shown to do real damage to the reputation and economy of the state–can generate significant public hostility, as we have recently seen in North Carolina, Mississippi and–of course–Indiana.

Voters and baseball fans don’t boo someone for poor management skills (even though that would warm the cockles of a public management professor’s heart). Voters do, however, feel strongly about arrogant ideologues who feel entitled to tell them how they should conduct their lives.

There’s a reason for all those “Pence Must Go” signs.

And for “boos” at the baseball game.

 

Distortions Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Stephen Prothero had a recent column in the Washington Post, discussing his latest book, “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars, Even When They Lose Elections.” Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University whose previous books—especially “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, and Doesn’t”—were New York Times bestsellers.

I found these passages particularly illuminating:

In almost every case, these culture wars have been conservative projects, instigated and waged by people anxious about the loss of old orders and the emergence of new ones. Their anxiety finds expression first as a complaint about a particular policy, and second as a broader lament about how far the nation has fallen from its founding glory and how desperately we need to restore whatever is passing away. Or, to put it in Trumpian terms: The nation has been schlonged, but it will be great again.

Anti-Catholicism and anti-Mormonism were right-wing reactions to 19th-century Catholic immigration and Mormon migration, and to the moral, theological, social and economic threats those communities posed to Protestant power. Similarly, the culture wars of the 1920s and 1930s were conservative responses to the rise of the saloon and the speakeasy — and to the cultural pluralism brought on by rapid urbanization and immigration waves. In the contemporary culture wars, conservatives give voice to their anxieties about the loss of the traditional family and a homogeneous society. Cultural politics are always a politics of nostalgia, driven by those who are determined to return to what they remember (rightly or wrongly) as a better way of life.

Father knows best, anyone?

It always amuses me to hear people talk about the 1950s as if the fifties were an idyllic time. I suppose they were— if you were a white, Protestant member of the middle or upper class.

Otherwise, not so much.

I went to college in the South for one year, in 1959; there were separate black and white drinking fountains and restrooms everywhere, and new subdivisions sported billboards informing passers-by that home sites were “restricted” (no Jews or Blacks). In the “idyllic” fifties, women couldn’t generate credit histories separate from their fathers or husbands, and help-wanted ads explicitly excluded women and minorities from the better-paying jobs. That was everywhere, not just in the South. McCarthy and HUAC flourished; dissenters cowered. The list goes on.

As Stephanie Coontz felicitously put it, Americans are notoriously nostalgic for “the way we never were.”

Rose-colored glasses sure can obscure your vision.