Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cease Fire in the Culture War

In his weekly NY Times column, Frank Rich weighs in on Barack Obama's recent announcement of rollbacks to the stem cell research policies of the previous administration as an example of how the politics of culture aren't what they used to be.

What has happened between 2001 and 2009 to so radically change the cultural climate? Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown: Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.

Rich has a point here, but I think it goes a bit further than that. It's not the cost so much as it's the lack of benefit. For all the right-wing posturing on topics from stem cells to defense of marriage, how is the country better off? When you look at the issues that effect most of us on a daily basis - jobs, healthcare, education - we're further behind than ever before.

Even were the public still in the mood for fiery invective about family values, the G.O.P. has long since lost any authority to lead the charge. The current Democratic president and his family are exemplars of precisely the Eisenhower-era squareness — albeit refurbished by feminism — that the Republicans often preached but rarely practiced. Obama actually walks the walk. As the former Bush speechwriter David Frum recently wrote, the new president is an “apparently devoted husband and father” whose worst vice is “an occasional cigarette.”

Frum was contrasting Obama to his own party’s star attraction, Rush Limbaugh, whose “history of drug dependency” and “tangled marital history” make him “a walking stereotype of self-indulgence.” Indeed, the two top candidates for leader of the post-Bush G.O.P, Rush and Newt, have six marriages between them. The party that once declared war on unmarried welfare moms, homosexual “recruiters” and Bill Clinton’s private life has been rebranded by Mark Foley, Larry Craig, David Vitter and the irrepressible Palins. Even before the economy tanked, Americans had more faith in medical researchers using discarded embryos to battle Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than in Washington politicians making ad hoc medical decisions for Terri Schiavo.

There is a lot to be said for getting back to the foundational issues from which our culture can be built. I compare it to working on the cake first instead of spending all your time on the icing. For too long, this country has been focused on the toppings and decorations while the platform for such adornments has been sorely neglected. It's good to see a return to substance over style.

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