The "Culture Wars" Will Always Be With Us

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 13:00

In response to the weekend's murder of George Tiller, MSNBC's lead thought this morning was that the "culture wars" have returned.

Not to always be the irritating know it all sitting in the first row of class or anything, but I have news for MSNBC. The culture wars never left American politics. In fact, they will always be with us. We are never going to enter a period as a nation where our cultural differences fail to have an impact on our political choices.

The only way we will ever enter into a post-culture war phase of American politics is if there is no longer an statistical significance in both partisan and ideological self-identification between people of different ethnic, gender and lifestyle demographics. To put it more bluntly, we will end move past the culture ways when cultural factors are no longer proving to have statistically significant impacts on partisan and ideological self-identification. As soon as there is no ideological and partisan gender gap, no difference ideological and partisan gap among people of different races, or between people who are straight and those who are not, or between gun owners and non-gun owners, and no difference between the way people with different religious identifications and attendance habits, then we will have entered the post-culture war period.

Problem is, that is never going to happen. It certainly has never happened before in American politics. Cultural factors like religion, ethnicity, and lifestyle have always had a statistically significant impact partisan and ideological self-identification. Irish-American Catholics and white southerners used to be overwhelmingly Democratic, for example.

In fact, cultural identity actually has a larger impact on how people vote than income. This difference had been eroding somewhat before 2008, but it actually increased dramatically in last year's elections. Voting patterns in the Democratic primary were almost entirely based on factors like gender and ethnicity. In the general election, according to exit polls, ethnicity played a significantly greater role in determining how people voted than did income. Future projections indicate that these cultural partisan tendencies will actually continue to increase, rather than decline.

It is worth considering if, when people call for an end to partisanship and ideology in politics, they are actually calling for an end to cultural differences in America. I doubt there is often a self-conscious connection between the two. The case of the David Broder's of the world, it is probably a symptom of living in a hermetically sealed demographic bubble for a while. In the case of the Obama administration and Obama campaign, it probably is / was a case of sending out code that "it's OK to trust me even if you think I am different." Also, it might be connected to an understandable desire to enter an era when cultural differences won't divide us as badly. However, given just how central cultural differences always have been, and always will be, to our partisan and ideological divides, it is still an unattainable goal.

Chris Bowers :: The "Culture Wars" Will Always Be With Us

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The Media and the Murder of George Tiller (4.00 / 6)

The "two sides to every issue" and the image of objectivity as disinterestedness by the media are chilling in the coverage of the murder of Dr. George Tiller.  The cast of characters that the mainstream news brought on for commentary include the likes of Randal Terry who scream that abortion providers are baby killers, mass murders and Nazis.  In this political media culture, which just a week ago equated President Obama and Dick Cheney on issues of torture and terrorism, right wing ravings are given deference and respectability.  The most vile abuses are rendered legitimate and made into a taken for granted feature of political life.  This is not a matter only of a "culture war," but of a media establishment that has virtually no critical capacity when it comes to right wing fanaticism.

Obama has consistently been giving extremists respectability here. (4.00 / 7)
His quote, "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion.." validates views that are inherently ALWAYS extreme. That a woman and her doctor should not have full control over her medical care is inevitably an unreasonable stance and isn't worthy of this sort of validation.

   It isn't acceptable to have individuals who equate abortion to the Holocaust give a convocation at a Democratic presidential inauguration- Obama has repeatedly argued for a "two sides to every issue" approach that confers dignity upon the flatly unethical.

[ Parent ]
It works for them (0.00 / 0)
the news media leaders, the one who get the big bucks, Brian Williams, the Chris Matthews.....the Scarboroughs, Buchanans and their ilk, MAKE BIG BUCKS.  Seemingly they LOVE their lives as millionaires in gated communities......
when Brian Williams gets away with publicly admiring Rush Limbaugh.....and Matthews drools over Jack Welch, what more can be said.  
The status quo works for these guys.

You will NEVER see REAL journalists on for long.  Aaron Brown disappeared from CNN.   Bill Moyers banished to PBS for a few weekly discussion.  How often is Glen Greenwald invited to discuss things on the networks.  Yet a dolt like George Will who has openly lied about serious matters is a regular on ABC.

In my view, the only thing keeping fascism at bay is the Internet and the ability to get the truth out.

[ Parent ]
We lost. (4.00 / 3)
Although Barack Obama emerged into TV consciousness with his speech about ending the "culture wars" during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it was obviously just blather designed to please (almost) everybody, and it's surprising to see an honest progressive writer like Chris Bowers adopting the same meme.

Maybe there's a sporadic culture-insurgency still flickering around websites like OpenLeft, but the Regular Army of the Left disappeared along with Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and...

We lost.

The bad guys won.

The rest of us lost in Vietnam, and 58,000 of us Americans, and 2,000,000 of us East-Asians died there, but the bad guys squeezed hundreds of billions of dollars out of all that slaughter, and used it to finance Reagan and Gingrich and all the other cockroaches who finally turned the United States into the hated, flat-broke former empire of 2009.

The bad guys won.

We killed at least 1,000,000 people in the genocidal occupation of Iraq, and the only "resistance" was a few scattered protests which slightly inconvenienced a few commuters.

And now Blathering Barack has rewarded criminal bankers with $2.93 trillion in useless (for the rest of us) and virtually untraceable give-aways, and maybe a dozen high-profile targets like Bernie Madoff will go to jail, while hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug "offenders" will serve out their mandatory-minimum sentences in federal prisons and every month the economy bleeds 600,000 jobs and 300,000 houses are foreclosed...

We lost the culture wars.

The bad guys won.

An unnecessary attack on Chris.. (0.00 / 0)
The true Left, represented by supporters of this site, exists in spite of the culture wars used by its own party in particular to push a consumer driven and materialistic way of life - where profit trumps principle.

'Fighting abortionists' is just as big of a money making concept to the Right as 'fighting polluters' is to the Left.

More babies are born out of wedlock and die from poverty than ever before and polluters are making such bigger profits that the planet now eats itself from within in protest..

We fight the bullshit dished out by the bad guys and write about them to drill into an overstuffed public how they're being bamboozled.

I do agree with you though on including Obama as one of those making matters worse, not better. Sotomayor makes the Chamber of Commerce just as happy as Roberts does.
And, the morning crew of MSNBC always push Wall Street talking points for the exact same reasons as does the culture king himself Bill O Reilly, whose hot steaming piles of crap are designed to bring in dollars not the truth.


Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.

[ Parent ]
I didn't "attack Chris." (0.00 / 1)
I disagreed with Chris Bowers, whom I described as an "honest progressive writer."

If you think that's an "attack," tell your mommy to sign you up for remedial reading.

[ Parent ]
be civil (4.00 / 3)
i liked your original comment and mostly agreed with your defense of it, but not the throwaway comment at the end of this one.  people are allowed to disagree wtih you.

[ Parent ]
You don't make the rules. (0.00 / 0)
dr. anonymous: Be civil.

Jakie: You don't make the rules, and if you want a second opinion... (old joke: "...and the doctor said "You're ugly, too!")

I didn't respond to worldlymother's (barely) reasonable disagreement. I responded to her silly accusation, which had already personalized the discussion.

"Jakie is attacking Chris," says worldlymother, and at that point the discussion of culture-war is over, it's all about personalities, and once it gets personal...

It's time to call mommy and make a joke.

[ Parent ]
i know i was paraphrasing the rule (0.00 / 0)
which is 'be good to each other' if you go find it.  not following it and waiting for someone who did 'make the rule' to come and lay the hammer down also undermines any notion of self-regulation and community democracy.  so consider it just a civil suggestion from a peer, not a demand, if you prefer ;)

[ Parent ]
I have to plug Mike Lux's book here (4.00 / 1)
Chris is exactly right -- the culture wars are a permanent fixture -- not just in America, but throughout at least several hundred years of European history.

Mike's "The Progressive Revolution" is a great read, and and engaging overview of the American experience of the permanent war of right vs. left.

This weekend is another chilling reminder that we can never stop fighting. Right wing authoritarianism is a psychological defect common to the human species. We can never eliminate it, but we cannot tolerate it or allow it to control us.

ec=-8.50 soc=-8.41   (3,967 Watts)

hmm (4.00 / 2)
I think you perhaps need to distinguish between 'The Culture Wars' and the idea that race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, immigration status, and many other factors besdies the economic have always and will always continue to influence politics.

The reason I suggest this is because a very basic debate in 'the left' in the United States for the past 10 years or so has been how to handle the reintroduction of class/bread and butter issues/economics as a topic for open public consideration and debate.  You can trace it to Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas, if not further back, and look at writers like Lisa Duggan (Twilight of Equality) which makes a somewhat similar point to yours.  

However, this is diferent from suggesting that the politicso f mobilising people on the basis of fundamentalist religion and racism (or against it) will be the predominant way of organising people.  In fact, the very idea that difference does not have to be polarising and exclusionary (Obama's message, as you note) is a key facet to the possibility of bringing about a new political coalition which weds idological, social, economic, and political concerns.  I would suggest unions as the main mnobilising tool, but there are many, many, many others,a nd it will never look pretty or work in a linear fashion, but I think underestimating the possibiltiy and focusing on social aspects of political identity to the complete exclusion of economic aspects is a mistake, just as, imo, the reverse would be.

Nuts & Guns (4.00 / 1)
One thing won't change in the good 'ol USA in our lifetime: it will always be very, very easy for nuts to get guns.

And so long as it's easier (0.00 / 0)
to get a gun than a job, well, watch out.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Thank You! (4.00 / 1)
One thing that irks me to no end is a tendency of "some" [I cringed when I wrote that; I'd like to attribute but I don't have any off hand] to dismiss the "culture wars" as "bread and circuses"; maybe sometimes, but these are real battles going on here that have actual impact on people's lives.  I've seen it crop up before where a fellow leftist dismisses all the culture wars with an "economics and imperialism are all that matter".  My internal response is, "really?  so women's rights, racial equality, gay rights, environmental preservation, prisoner's rights, voting rights, transparent government, government structure reform, land use policies, transportation infrastructure, etc etc, are what, window dressing?"  And if I had a quarter every time I got a "Oh no, but those are really just economic issues at heart", I could buy out Soros' Massive Leftist Conspiracy Apparatus.

Eh, that rambled more than I wanted it to.  Shorter me: It's not that simple!

I'd subscribe to an amended version of the "Economics is everything" argument (0.00 / 0)
If you win on issues of economics and imperialism, ultimately you win.

You push increasing equality of income, which helps to delegitimise inequality on other grounds, such as gender or sexuality. You reject violence and disenfranchisement on the world stage, which raises the question of why they're acceptable on the national stage.

In the meantime, progressive movement on economics and imperialism would empower our allies like unions and hurt the Chamber of Commerce, the banking industry and the military-industrial complex.

That's not to say that other issues aren't important. It's not to say that those that are achievable now shouldn't be pushed before the fights on economics. It's not even to say that we can really win in the economic or geopolitical spheres just yet - our hegemonic appartuses are weak there.

But it is to say that when we're powerful enough to have our way on issues of economics and foreign policy, everything else you've listed is going to be much easier to achieve.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
The "Culture wars" are fought over "wedge" issues... (0.00 / 0)
Since those are the ONLY points of disagreement between the two wings of the Party of Property and Privilege (they are in substantial agreement on militarism, globalism, corporatism, and 'national security") and since they need to preserve the appearances of 'difference' between the Wings for the rubes, and because the differences are actually quite slight anyway, the 'culture wars' will of course be a permanent fixture, with the Right (the Owners' wing) winning most of the time.

Wouldn't be good for bidness, otherwise...If the rubes actually tumbled to the fundamental similarities, and symmetries camouflaged by the loudest rantings of the 'culture warriors,' the Bosses might lose the (appearance of) the consent of the governed. They might stop voting for the picked, made men (or women) selected by the Owners as our "leaders."

Legitimacy. That's the thing that the culture wars guarantees, because the issues seemingly compel partisan participation.  

Counter-pose: Class Wars (4.00 / 1)
The culture wars are with us because "they" don't have the numbers to win elections if the class was the primary determinant of political affiliation.

Class is certainly part of it, something we Open Left readers are certainly aware of. But it is interesting how successful Republicans have been at diverting the US public away from class issues into cultural, racial and religious issues.

It is overdetermined from several directions. Race, Income and Union Household categories are related to class. Also, Conservative power has in fact been based on cultural/religious/racial appeals, so we shouldn't be surprised that statistical analysis agrees with that.

So the question is whether class, whether that is an economic or cultural definition, will play a more deterministic role in US politics.


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