Thursday, December 23, 2004

2004 is not 1969: Middle America Values

The Middle Americans cherish a system of values they see assaulted and mocked everywhere--everywhere except in [the President's] Washington... It was their interpretation of patriotism that influenced the mood of government...The Men and Women of the Year were the Middle Americans... Middle America is a state of mind, a morality, a construct of values.

--Time Magazine, "Man and Woman of the Year"

Seattle's alternative rag The Stranger has a column in this week's issue that starts with the above quote.

Here are the first couple paragraphs of the piece that follows:

No, I didn't get an advance copy of Time's Man of the Year issue. This is from 1969, when the magazine honored red-state Americans and the reemergence of moral values. Before they go and honor the same group in 2004, scaring the shit out of you with the idea that "moral values" are in ascendancy, I'd like to offer a reality check. Let's start with a history lesson.

1969? Moral values? Roll the film: Woodstock, mini-skirts, and the gay rights explosion at Stonewall; feminism, Black Power, and the debut of the super politically correct Sesame Street; orgies, communes, and the debut of the sexually explicit Penthouse.

By the mid-'70s, liberal Democrats firmly controlled the Senate, a bunch of stoned comedians, including John Belushi, were hosting the most popular TV show in the country, and blatantly gay disco hits were topping the charts.

Essentially, Josh Feit compares the cultural trends of that period with the current one, and comes up with the idea that "We're winning the culture war."

He writes:

Desperate Housewives, with its swinging '70s values, is the number-two show in the country--and it's number one in red turf like metro Atlanta. More substantively, civil unions--once anathema--are now the Republican fallback position. Polls find two-thirds of Americans say abortion should be legal, and prescriptions for the morning-after pill have increased from 48,000 in 1998 to more than 310,000 in 2000, according to Planned Parenthood.

And he concludes that;

2005 will make it clear the Bushies and the media (as before) are overplaying the moral "mandate." If there's going to be any backlash, it's going to be ours--against their house of cards.

Uh... Okay.

Desperate Housewives, a show I find myself despising, though I have admittedly never seen it, and approximately 250,000 more women a year resorting to the morning after pill as a last resort? Are these good things? Do you really think that we are trending towards Red America lightening up and getting with the hip crowd, accepting what they see as perverse and immoral?

Do I even want to be in this hip crowd?

Now, I am on the left. I believe that the FCC needs to back off. I believe that Desperate Housewives is a valid form of entertainment. I believe that the availability of morning after pill is an essential element of women's health care, one that includes comprehensive sex education enabling people to make choices that lessen the need for the morning after pill and for abortions. And I believe that all Americans deserve the same rights, period. If I can do it legally, you can do it legally and on until dawn. No exceptions.

But I would say, the culture war is not something that CAN be won. It is not something that should even be fought in the first place. We are a nation of moral people, but different groups have different morals. Just as they have different belief systems.

Trying to win a culture war, to me, is no less offensive than Ann Coulter saying:

We should invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.

Earlier this week, I was in The Dalles in Eastern Oregon. This is a pink county on the election map and their split on the President was exactly the same as the national result: 51% Bush, 48% Kerry. Just off the freeway there is a porn shop. On Sunday, there were also a handful of perfectly legitimate protesters with anti-porn signs standing outside of this perfectly legitimate business.

This was almost odd to me. I live in a city where every neighborhood has its very own porn shop (seriously, Portland is like that, we also have the highest per capita number of strip joints in America), but in a culture war, one of these sides is going to win and one is going to lose. Both sides have 1st Amendment protections safe guarding their activities. Regardless of who would win such a battle in a culture war, we all would lose as basic freedom of speech rights were eroded.

Beyond this... Before the November elections, many liberal Democrats actually assumed that they were a majority in this country. Regardless of your beliefs on the validity of the results of the election, one thing is clear... We are split right down the middle, 50/50. I'll say the 3% difference in the presidential election results would be called within the margin of error on this point.

According to Feit, he assumes that this same unseen liberal majority will quietly slide into power as a backlash against conservatism. But what he fails to understand is that the political climate is very different these days. What we are seeing today in many ways is the backlash to the cultural shift that happened in the early 70's.

It could even be said that we are seeing a correction, that the conservatives are not pulling America in their direction but that the conservatives themselves are actually the true face of American values that was subjugated by the culturally amoral liberal minority for 30 years.

It seems to me that there are actually two Americas with almost equal populations; Blue urban America and Red rural America. We need to find the values that both sides agree on and work on building consensus through those points.

We will never convince Red America that what their faith labels as perverse and immoral is just a fun, legally protected Saturday night and that our soul is our own business. They will never convince Blue America that it is good for the country to limit our rights and choices.

But right now the culture is trending towards the Red. While it is important to accept their values as legitimate, it is even more important that we do not become complacent and let them take away our rights and freedoms.

We have to be viligent and defend our values; freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to privacy; control of our own bodies, civil rights for all Americans...

The most disturbing thing about this column was not its total miss on the cultural climate of rural America's socially conservative values, but that it encourages those with more to lose than soft core porn on network TV to be passive and to ignore the fact that their basic rights are being threatened.

And by the way, Atlanta is almost as Blue as Seattle. Fulton County, Georgia had Kerry at 60%, Bush at 39%. King County, Washington went for Kerry 65% to 34%.

Complacency, making naive assumptions about Red American values and the nature of Red States in general (Atlanta is in Georgia, Georgia is Red, Atlanta must be Red) are at the core of why we find our Democracy in Distress.


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