Return of the Culture Wars

Since McCain’s chose Palin as his running mate, I’ve been worried that it represents a return to the GOP’s culture wars. The choice seems to fit into the GOP’s labeling Obama and his supporters as elitists for doing horrible things like drinking lattes and driving Priuses which the GOP base resents for some reason. Also, Palin represents the McCain’s campaign’s choice to make this election about “God, guns, and gays.” It worked for them in the past, so why not got for it again?

So I was glad to read this article from Gary Kamiya on Salon.

Palin represents the reappearance of the one part of Bush that never died — the culture warrior. Democrats may have forgotten about the notorious red state-blue state divide, or hoped that the failures of the last eight years had made it go away. But it hasn’t. It’s been there all along. If Palin catapults McCain to victory, it will be revealed to be the most powerful and enduring force in American politics. And that fact will raise serious questions about the viability of American democracy itself.

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 hardline “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.

The GOP is so good at playing to cultural resentment that they have voters working against their own economic interests. They might not have jobs, but who cares about that when you have to worry that atheists might infect your home or that gays might steal your children and your guns. It’s nonsensical, of course, but that line of argument seems to be very powerful for some.

It’s terrifying that so many Americans are so driven by resentment that they will vote against more qualified candidates simply because they seem “different” from them. For what this means is that anyone with expertise, unusual intelligence, mastery, special knowledge, is likely to be rejected by voters who are resentful of “elites.” This constitutes a rejection of the very idea that it matters if someone is better at something than someone else.

The peculiar thing is that this only applies to politics: voters who would not dream of taking their car to an incompetent mechanic or their body to an unlicensed physician have no problem electing totally unqualified candidates to perform the most difficult and important job in the world, simply because they identify with them.

Maybe a certain percentage of American voters think that who is in office matters so little in their lives that it serves them better to vote on resentment rather than what a candidate might actually do in office?

Most insidious, perhaps, is the fact that more and more Americans seem to see politics as just another reality TV show. You vote for Palin the same way you vote for a designer on “Project Runway.” As Katherine Mieszkowski reported for Salon, Palin’s rapturous supporters embrace her because “she represents me.” It’s the politics of sheer narcissism.


From the GOP’s perspective, Palin has all of the virtues of Bush, and none of the drawbacks.


Palin apparently still believes the ur- lie of the Bush administration, that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. On Sept. 11, she told troops shipping out to Iraq, including her eldest son Track, that they would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”

Sadly, many GOP voters that I know believe the same thing about Iraq and 9/11. It’s a con, but it’s one that serves the GOP well.

But where Palin most closely, and disturbingly, resembles Bush is in her dogmatism, her mental rigidity. Like Bush and the GOP in general, she is determined to appear tough above all else. She follows Rove Rule Number One: she stays on message, even if what she’s saying is an obvious lie. The GOP programmers know that toughness sells. But Palin’s supposed toughness reveals an utter lack of any introspection, intellectual nuance or ability to depart from programmed ideas. Asked if she had worried she wasn’t prepared to be president, Palin replied, “I — I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink.”

If what America wants is a more uninformed, more right-wing, equally macho version of Bush, Palin’s the perfect choice.

I don’t get that aspect of many GOP voters. Why do they prefer to have a president that changes reality to fit policy rather that one who changes policy to fit reality?

It’s puzzling, but I think much of it goes back to the politics of resentment. Do they think that Obama is too much of a smarty-pants that they wouldn’t want him to be at their Fourth of July barbeque?  That was certainly a problem that both Gore and Kerry had.

But in the end, it’s not surpising that McCain picked Palin. The GOP base resents him for pretending to be against torture (he was against it before he was for it) and for not being batshit insane on immigration reform.

He knew that to get his base excied, he needed to pick a batshit crazy culture warrior.

And now, it’s on. I just hope that Obama is more JFK or Bill Clinton than he is Mike Dukakis or John Kerry.


2 responses to “Return of the Culture Wars

  1. hmm…read the article as well and share some of the same points you do.

  2. This is such a classic line:

    Palin represents the reappearance of the one part of Bush that never died — the culture warrior.

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