Category Archives: Kulturkampf

Maybe the terrorist who killed Foley was a British subject, but there’s no way he was a ‘Westerner’

News reports such as this one challenge our convictions about citizenship and identity in a modern, pluralistic, liberal democracy:

The beheading of an American journalist at the hands of a London-accented extremist prompted deep reckoning among Britons on Wednesday over the particularly vicious role their countrymen are playing in the destabilization of the Middle East.

Security officials in London have been sounding the alarm for more than a year over the large number of foreigners in Syria, with the chief of Scotland Yard telling reporters last week that about 500 Britons are among the thousands of Westerners who have joined the fight….

I’ll confess right now that my first reaction is one that is unworthy of someone who prizes living in a pluralistic society. My first thought is, “That was no Englishman. That was a foreigner who had lived in England.”

But then, I have to correct myself: If Scotland Yard says there are “500 Britons” fighting for ISIS, then I have to take it to me that they hold British passports (I sincerely doubt that the Yard is referring to the old ethnic identity of Briton, as in the people who lived in Albion before the Angles and the Saxons showed up.)

And if they hold UK passports, then they are Brits. They are British subjects, with the same rights and privileges as Sir Paul McCartney or Hugh Laurie or David Cameron. That’s the way it is, and the way it should be. To say they are less English (or less British) than James Bond because they belonged to a culture that made them likely to become Islamist terrorists is to deny what separates us from the cultural fascists of ISIS.

However, all of that said… I still don’t see how they, or the 100 or so Americans among the terrorists, can be called “Westerners.” That implies a cultural orientation, one which these fighters categorically and viciously reject. Western culture is something they are against, presumably. They may hold passports from Western nations, but everything they are cries out against all that is Western — including our pious, correct insistence that legally, they are just as British as Monty Python.

Terrorists such as these challenge our vocabulary. We must choose our words carefully, as we are trying to define a new thing, a thing that if it had its way would kill us all. A decidedly unWestern thing…

France isn’t anti-Muslim, just anti-religion. Feel better?

Oh, I miss my Economist subscription, which the newspaper used to pay for.

But fortunately, the magazine did allow me today to read the piece promoted by this Tweet:

And here, basically, is the answer to the question:

France adheres to a strict form of secularism, known as laïcité, which is designed to keep religion out of public life. This principle was entrenched by law in 1905, after fierce anti-clerical struggles with the Roman Catholic church. Today, the lines are in some ways blurred. The French maintain, for instance, certain Catholic public holidays, such as Ascension. But secular rules on the whole prevail. It would be unthinkable in France, for example, to hold a nativity play in a state primary school, or for a president to be sworn in on a Bible.

Over the past 30 years, in response to a growing assertiveness among the country’s 5m-6m Muslims, the focus of this effort to balance religious and secular needs has shifted to Islam. After a decade of legal uncertainty over the wearing of the headscarf in state schools, the French government in 2004 banned all “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, from public institutions such as state schools or town halls. This was followed in 2010 by what the French call the “burqa ban”, outlawing the full face covering in public. Critics accuse France of illiberalism, of curbing freedom of religious expression, and of imposing a Western interpretation of female oppression. Amnesty International, for example, called the recent European court ruling “a profound retreat for the right to freedom of expression and religion”. For the French, however, it is part of an unapologetic effort to keep religious expression private, and to uphold the country’s republican secular identity. Interestingly, many moderate Muslim leaders also back the ban as a bulwark against hard-line Islam….

So now you see. The French aren’t anti-Muslim. Just anti-religion. Sorta.

That will make some of you feel better, and some worse…

Arrested for getting ‘Happy’ in Iran

Thought this was an interesting slice-of-life-on-the-other-side-of-the-universe item: Iranian students arrested for having made a popular video based on the pop song, “Happy.”

Hassan Rouhani Tweeted his dissent from the official disapproval, thereby asserting his “moderate” cred abroad and, I suppose, playing “good cop” for domestic consumption:

The kids in the video are reported to be out of jail now, but not the director. You know, the authorities can’t be too careful with a dangerous character like that guy. People can’t be allowed to just wander around loose making upbeat, G-rated videos that make people smile…

Below is the full video:

Aw, Jeez, Edith! Not with the Culture Wars again…

Corey Hutchins must have seen my post a couple of days ago worrying that we’re getting cranked up again on the Kulturkampf stuff two years ahead of the presidential election.

Or maybe he just remembers me bemoaning the use of issues that serve only to divide us, to separate us into camps of “us” versus “them,” back in 2012.

In any case, he tormented me today by sending a link to this item:

Speaking to GOP gatherings in the early presidential primary state of South Carolina this week, Rick Santorum had a message for Republicans running this year: the culture wars still work as a message….

“Folks, the economy is important, but you know what’s more important? The culture. Look at the culture in America. Look at what’s happening to families in America. Look at what’s happening to marriage, to children. Look at the culture. It’s disintegrating in front of us. And as a result people are insecure….”

All I could say in response was to quote Archie Bunker: “Aw, Jeez, Edith!”

But on second thought, I did like the rest of that quote:

“…And as a result people are insecure. They’re afraid … and when people are afraid, the last thing they want to hear is ‘And we’re going to cut this, and we’re going to cut that, and we’re going to take them away from these people who don’t want to work.’ Not the kind of message that’s going to win you a lot of folks who are a little nervous — I’m not talking about the 47 percent —I’m talking about all of their friends and neighbors who feel that they are close to being part of that 47 percent.”

If he’s saying that maybe Republicans should give all the “shrink government to a size that you can drown it in a bathtub” stuff a rest, and stop demonizing people who actually depend on the “safety net” that Reagan used to speak of… well, that would be a positive thing.’

But must it come at the cost of more Kulturkampf?

College of Charleston play flap draws national attention


At this moment, the centerpiece story at the WashPost site is this one:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — More than 750 people packed into a city auditorium here this week for a sold-out production of “Fun Home,” a musical by a New York-based troupe about a woman coming to terms with her closeted gay father’s suicide. The crowd rose in a standing ovation before the show even began.

The emotional reaction was part of a worsening political battle between South Carolina’s public universities and conservative Republican lawmakers, who argue that campus culture should reflect the socially conservative views of the state.

The state’s House of Representatives recently voted to cut $52,000 in funding for the College of Charleston as punishment for assigning students to read “Fun Home,” the graphic novel that formed the basis for the play. House lawmakers endorsed a similar budget cut for the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg for using a different book with gay themes in its reading program.

Republican lawmakers also helped pave the way for the appointment of a controversial GOP state official as the College of Charleston’s next president, sparking campus protests.

The fights serve as a reminder that rapid national shifts on social issues — particularly gay rights — are hardly universal and remain hotly contested across much of the Deep South. The views of people in South Carolina carry particular weight given the state’s early presidential primary, which gives voters here the power to help shape the GOP ticket every four years….

You had probably heard about most of this. I hadn’t heard about the play angle.

It seems like WashPost regards this as a pretty big deal, on account of our early primary. I hadn’t thought of it that way until now.

Remember how, early in 2012, I worried about the way Kulturkampf issues were being used to divide us in that election? Here we go again, y’all — two years early…

Haley also being nice to the arts this year

I saw I had an email the other day from the South Carolina Arts Alliance, and I figured, “Well, it’s about that time, when they’re gearing up to fight Nikki Haley’s budget.” I assumed this was the first of a series of increasingly frantic notices, as in 2012 and 2013.

So I didn’t actually look at the release until just now, as I was trying clean up my Inbox. And I saw this:

art advocates


I knew she was seeking to add funding for poor rural school districts, and boost spending on mental health, but now the arts?

I suppose the Democrats will call that election-year opportunism as well, but that raises the question: Is she right? Assume she’s being a complete opportunist here: Is the woman who road to power on the love of the Tea Party right when she now concludes that this is the way to get re-elected.

If so, when and how did this change in the SC electorate occur?

There’s another way for cynics and partisans to read it, of course — that Nikki believes she has the Tea Party sewn up, and she can afford to go fishing in the political center. But from what I’ve seen, if you don’t agree with those folks on everything, they don’t believe in you. Is there any fury like a Tea Party scorned?

The most interesting thing in all this is not what it does to Nikki Haley’s political future, but whether there has been an actual sea change in the electorate. And if there has been, what does it all mean, Mr. Natural?

A wonderfully temperate and respectful speech on an emotional issue

Andrew Sullivan embedded this video from the Scottish parliament earlier this week because he saw it as “The Conservative Case For Marriage Equality.”

I was impressed with it for another reason: It was so thoughtful, mature and respectful to people who might disagree.

We don’t see a lot of that on this side of the pond when it comes to these Culture War issues. For that matter, we seldom see politicians sincerely addressing themselves to people who disagree with them about anything — the parties are so far apart that speeches are just about lambasting the opposition, and gaining the admiration of those who agree.

Unlike the rhetoric I routinely see in press releases, or in commentary on the Web, there is no name-calling, no castigation of those who disagree as narrow-minded bigots, as the spiritual heirs of lynch mobs.

Instead, we have thoughts such as those contained in this passage:

I therefore commend all of the contributors to this debate over the past few months and years who have sought to make thoughtful contributions, to elevate the ideas and to temper the language, displaying a respect for beliefs which differ from their own, but recognizing that those beliefs are just as sincerely held.

And I hope that that temperance will continue this evening, demonstrating that while this may be a fledgling parliament, that it has a maturity too….

If this woman, Ruth Davidson, is a representative sample, hers is a mature parliament, indeed.

What Sheheen said at the SC Pride Festival

Corey Hutchins is working out of Charleston these days, but he’s still out there reporting stuff that you might wonder about, but don’t read about elsewhere.

He did a story for Charleston City Paper about Vincent Sheheen’s unheralded appearance at the huge SC Pride Festival in Columbia over the weekend.

Not only that, he managed to get ahold of what Sheheen said at the event, which follows:

Friends, I want to thank you for inviting me here today – not just having me but welcoming me. And I couldn’t help but think of today’s theme: A Part not Apart. To me, being a part means listening, and hearing and sharing and celebrating our differences and also our similarities. I want to be a leader where everyone has a part. That means working together to protect South Carolinians from unfair treatment, bullying at work, at school, wherever it may be for any reason, for you and for anyone. It means working together to make sure workplace protections are in place to ensure people can’t be fired, fired because of their race or their gender or their religion or their sexual orientation. We all know that in South Carolina it’s one of the hardest places to earn a living and be successful. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in America, and we need to work together if we’re going to change that. And we want everybody to be able to work together. We’re not going to agree on everything, but we’ll be honest and listen and work as we strive together to make a better South Carolina. And only together, only together can we be successful. Only together can we salve the wounds that we’ve had in South Carolina for so long. Only together will we move forward. We’ll all be a part. And we won’t be apart. Together we’ll do it. Thank you so much for letting me be with you.

As I read that, it’s pretty consistent with what Vincent has said in the past, and what I had to say about it recently. Basically, what he’s saying overall to the voters in this constituency is that he appreciates and respects them and shares many of their goals, but doesn’t agree with them about everything.

Which people are allowed to do. In fact, I’ll bet not everyone participating in the SC Pride Festival agrees with everyone else who was there about everything, even about what you might call core issues.

I know that in this binary-thinking world, in which everyone is supposed to agree either with every position of the left or every position of the right, that’s hard to imagine. But people are allowed to agree with folks about some things, and not about others.

I think maybe the pope’s thinking the way I do on Kulturkampf

At first, I was sort of confused.

When I saw this headline on the NYT app Thursday night: “Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion.”

… I thought, What focus? Where’s he been going to Mass?

Because in my experience, there is no particular focus on those things, in actual Catholic churches. And the Church I know is certainly not “obsessed” with those things, as the pontiff said.

All of you who are not Catholic are now asking where I’ve been, that I don’t know the Church is “obsessed” with those things.

Here’s where I’ve been — I’ve actually been in the Church, rather than experiencing it as it is written about by secular media. And I cannot recall when I’ve heard a single homily concentrating on any of those topics. Occasionally, during the petitions, I’ve heard an affirmation of life mentioned among all the other things we’re praying for. But “obsession”? “Focus,” even? No. Not part of my experience.

Now I do hear that there are some parishes that do have more of such a “focus.” But I don’t know that from personal experience.

It’s the rest of the world that thinks about those things, constantly, and only interacts with the Church in terms of its positions on those subjects. That’s pretty much all most Catholics seem to know about us. Well, that, and pedophilia. A topic that also fails to intersect with my experience of the Church.

The only intersection I can recall in this diocese between these separate perceptions is when then-Bishop Robert Baker was one of the bishops who said politicians who favor abortion on demand should not receive Communion. But I mostly read about that in the paper. I don’t recall it intruding into my parish life. And I don’t recall of hearing of anyone actually being denied communion in this diocese, although maybe it happened.

I want to say there was another bishop’s letter regarding a political issue sometime since then, but I don’t remember what it was about. It just didn’t have much impact on my experience of church life.

Oh, wait — I remember now that our current bishop, Robert Guglielmone, wrote a letter advocating for Medicaid expansion in SC. Does that count? Probably not.

So I was wondering what the pope was on about.

But when I read some other versions of the story, with different headlines (such as the WSJ’s “Pope Warns Church Focusing Too Much on Divisive Issues”), I got it.

Pope Francis was, in a way, doing what I did as editorial page editor at The State. Not to elevate myself to the level of the Holy Father or anything.

Y’all know I have an aversion to seeing Culture War issues intrude upon our politics. It’s because of the habit of thought I developed as EPE. My view was that there were all sorts of things we needed to talk about in South Carolina — economic development, education, our dysfunctional form of government, the need for comprehensive tax reform. It was tough enough to try to have constructive conversations about those things, untainted by partisan, ideological foolishness, without wasting any capital we had on issues that were hopelessly divisive.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing, we could accomplish in terms of changing minds on abortion, or same-sex marriage, or any of those kinds of things. Both sides in the partisan battles in this country used those issues for one purpose — to divide. As a sort of password to identify “their” people — to identify the good, right-thinking people — and to delegitimize those who disagreed.

All we could have accomplished by writing about such things would have been to make close to half our readers furious, thereby closing their minds to anything we had to say about pragmatic solutions to the issues we could actually do something about here in South Carolina.

I still don’t like to see such issues take a front-and-center position in our politics, because they drive us apart, and make it even harder to have constructive conversations on anything else.

Anyway, what does that have to do with what the Pope said?

Well, to begin with, this pontifex maximus is a very humble guy. He doesn’t care about winning argument points. And he understands that in terms of the way the world interacts with the church, perception is reality. So never mind that the church isn’t really obsessed with these things. It’s perceived as being so, and that erects walls between the church and lots of people who would otherwise be open to its central reasons for being.

So, he very publicly lets the world know that while he is Pope, the church will not be “obsessed” with such things. He’s not for a moment backing away from church teachings on those matters, but he assures us that he and the church he heads aren’t going to be going on and on about them. From E.J. Dionne’s column on the subject:

Francis responded plainly in the interview. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said. “I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

As the WSJ described them, his remarks “appeared intended to nudge the church away from politically charged issues by setting out a vision of a church that is more welcoming and less preoccupied with emphasizing doctrine.”

Doctrine. That’s the key word, I think.

This pope’s predecessor was an enforcer of doctrine. That’s how he made his bones in the church. Under John Paul II, he was the bad cop, the modern-day version of a Grand Inquisitor. He was Mr. Rules and Regulations.

This pope is more about the central issues that our faith is about. Love, mercy, open arms and healing hearts. And he doesn’t want to be going on and on about things that distract from that, or to have the world think the church is going on and on about those things.

I like this Pope.

Pope Francis is right: Read all the Dostoevsky you can

You may have heard by now what the Pope had to say on the plane flight back from Brazil, and he’s absolutely right: He told the reporters they should “read and reread” Dostoevsky.

Or maybe you missed it. Most of the news stories about his informal papal bull session have been about what he said about gay priests. That didn’t seem as newsworthy to me, but then unlike much of the world, I didn’t think that the church hated gay people. What those remarks told us is that this pope is personally very different from the last pope, which is a good thing. In terms of style and orientation and emphasis, we’ve gone from a Grand Inquisitor to a parish priest, with all the best things such a pastoral role suggests — loving, welcoming, kindly, caring deeply about the “least of these.”

As we go along, I expect a lot of people who think the church is hateful will be pleasantly surprised. For me, it will be pleasant, but less of a surprise.

Here’s another prediction — this pope is going to get good press, so he’s going to seem like a nicer, friendlier guy, whatever he says. Why do I say that? Because he’ll walk to the back of the plane or bus or whatever and bat the breeze with the media types, no holds barred. John Paul II did that, and you know what good press “John Paul the Great” got. Whereas Herr Benedict only took prepared, screened questions. Reporters love a guy who’s generous with access, and spontaneous. It has always puzzled some people why the press was historically so kind to John McCain. He did the same thing, long before there was such a thing as the “Straight Talk Express.” And the press loved him for it.

The WSJ story was headlined, “Pope Signals Openness to Gay Priests.” It probably would have captured him in a nutshell if it had just said, “Pope Signals Openness,” period.

But while I was sort of kidding about the Dostoevsky thing as big news, I’d like to know more of what he said about that. This pope has made news mentioning Dostoevsky previously, in a recent encyclical. But since that document was put together on the previous pope’s watch, no one knew for sure whether it signaled a particular interest in the Russian master on the part of Francis.

The Holy Father says, read more of this guy.

The Holy Father says, read more of this guy.

Anyway, his comment — however sketchily reported — about reading Dostoevsky does what the previous pope was so good at. It’s made me feel guilty. I read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov when I was in college (the first as a class assignment, the second on my own), but haven’t reread either since then, and have never gotten around to such other masterpieces as The Idiot (which was specifically mentioned in the encyclical).

I suspect the pope recommended such reading because Dostoevsky is way, way deep on moral issues. Which is why I should have read him more by now. Yet I haven’t, while reading O’Brian’s novels about the Napoleonic Wars over and over and over and over (on my fifth time through the earlier novels now). Ditto with John le Carre.

What’s really awful is that I go around citing Crime and Punishment all the time, thereby giving an artificial impression that I’m way, way deep, too. Or maybe not. People can probably see through that…

But I hereby resolve to do better. I downloaded The Idiot to my iPad this morning. That counts for something, right? I feel more serious already, almost profound.

Isn’t it cool how, in ebook form at least, all the greatest literature is free now?

Looks like Tom Davis regrets not running in 1st District

While we’re speculating whether Tom Davis will change his mind and run against Lindsey Graham after all, it looks like Tom himself is sort of regretting that he didn’t run for the 1st Congressional District. Here’s his reaction, on Facebook, to the campaign’s descent into cultural wedge issues:

Two days ago in SC 1st district GOP primary, it was creationism, now it’s gay marriage. Ridiculous. Obsession with using the coercive power of the federal government in such “social conservative” matters is inconsistent with the principle of limited and constitutional government. I wish one of the candidates had answered the gay-marriage question like this: “I oppose federal government efforts to redefine marriage as something other than a union between one man and one woman, and my personal belief is that marriage should be between a single man and a single woman. But I also oppose federal government efforts to define marriage as only the union between a single man and a single woman. The federal government has only those powers delegated to it in the constitution and defining what constitutes a marriage is not one of them.”

Grooms jumps into Culture Wars with both feet

Larry Grooms has apparently decided that Kulturkampf is the way to differentiate himself from the rest of the Gang of 16 in the GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District:

Charleston, SC – In a political shocker last night at the College of Charleston Forum – not one Republican up on stage stood up and supported traditional marriage being between one man and one woman.

In fact, the Post and Courier this morning, published an article titled, “1st Congressional District Candidates Speak Up on Gay Marriage, Other Issues,” and it exposed the candidates’ decidedly liberal position on marriage.

For example, Teddy Turner, Jr.’s newly found conservatism apparently doesn’t include protecting social issues like marriage. Turner said, “I don’t think social issues should be a federal issue.” Candidate Tim Larkin said, “…This is a South Carolina Republican telling you the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. It’s wrong.” Candidate Elizabeth Moffly said she didn’t think Congress should legislate morality or what goes on behind closed doors. Candidate Peter McCoy said, “When it comes down to the government telling somebody how to get married … I think the government has zero role in it.”

Even self proclaimed conservative, former Governor Mark Sanford didn’t refute the others – and now we know why – because at the Forum, Sanford refused to be clear on the issue too.

To view the article, click the following link:

Conversely, Larry Grooms was about 90 miles away at a Tea Party Forum in Bluffton – defending social issues like life and marriage. When asked about the Republican Party hemorrhaging demographics – Larry pointed out that Hispanic voters and African American voters care deeply about social issues – and abandoning life and marriage would hurt Republicans with those groups and not help.

Today, Larry issued the following statement about the lack of support for marriage at the College of Charleston forum last night:

Larry Grooms said, “I firmly believe marriage is between one man and one woman – and I will fight to defend traditional marriage against every attack. Quite frankly, I’m appalled that the other candidates refused to stand up for traditional marriage. But I’m not surprised. My opponents have sure talked a good conservative game, but now everyone can see, the others just won’t be as conservative as they say they will. And last night’s forum proves my point.

But whether it’s social issues, government spending issues or government waste issues – voters can trust me to stand in the gap for conservatism because I’ve got a record of doing just that.

If these other candidates can’t be conservative at a College of Charleston forum, then how can you trust them to be conservatives in the face of other Congressional members or Congressional leadership or this President?”

Larry Grooms has received various awards fighting for social issues including:

  • Legislator of the Year, South Carolina Citizens for Life
  • Senate Legislative Champion Award, Palmetto Family Council




Did the ‘war on women’ meme even work?

Ralph Reed (answering the question, What ever happened to that guy?) had an op-ed piece in the WSJ today (“Round Up the Usual Social Conservative Suspects“) bemoaning — as you would expect him to — that once again, social conservatives are being blamed for a Republican defeat.

The main thrust of his piece is that the GOP would push the culture warriors away only at its peril.

Nothing new there. What interested me was this one paragraph in which he was speaking not about Republicans, but about Democrats:

Despite the Obama campaign’s accusation of a Republican “war on women,” Mr. Obama actually won women by a narrower margin than he did in 2008; he lost married women by seven points. Nor did single women—who went heavily Mr. Obama’s way—vote on reproductive issues. Forty-five percent of single women voters listed jobs and the economy as their most important issues, while only 8% said abortion.

That was welcome news to me, given my repeated complaints about the Dems overemphasizing Kulturkampf stuff this year. (I would like very much for the president’s victory to be because of other factors, and for both parties to know that, and in the future act accordingly, so that I don’t have to be quite so appalled at the tenor of campaigns to come. And on the immigration front of the Kulturkampf, there are actually some signs that some Republicans learned something.) Of course, considering the source, I immediately wondered how accurate his characterization was.

That led me to this interesting 2012 exit polls graphic at the NYT site (if you don’t get anything else from this post, go check that out). While the words on the graphic seem to contradict Reed, saying, “Mr. Obama maintained his 2008 support among women,” when you call up the actual numbers (just scroll your cursor over the blue and pink bubbles), you see a slight drop — although it’s only one percent, which is well within the 4 percent margin of error.

But in looking further at the numbers, I saw something that I had forgotten about, if I ever knew — that in 2008, President Obama edged out John McCain among men — the only time the Democratic nominee has done that in the last four presidential elections. Maybe, if they believe their “war on women” meme worked, Democrats should have claimed the Republicans were conducting a “war on men” as well.

I knew without looking that Reed was accurate in saying Obama won among single women and lost among married ones. As for what he said about single women caring far more about the economy than abortion — well, that makes sense (think about it — I would expect pretty much every broad demographic group to cite the economy as a bigger issue than abortion), but I haven’t found data that back it up. Has anyone seen that subset analyzed along those lines? I have not.

I have always believed that we don’t look hard enough at exit polls after elections. Yet in the polling world, that’s where the substance is. Ahead of the election, political junkies mainline polls in their desperate desire to know what might happen. Exit polls are the only kind that tell you what the actual voters who actually showed up were actually thinking on Election Day. Maybe you have to allow a bit for a Democratic bias (Republicans are more likely to refuse to participate in exit polls), but it’s still valuable stuff.

I would have liked Ike, JFK, maybe even Nixon

I was at first drawn in by this book review in The Wall Street Journal this morning, because at the outset it addressed a big concern I’ve had since the start of this election year:

Even as we tremble at the edge of a fiscal cliff, the culture war insists on our attention. Abortion, contraception, gay and women’s rights, and welfare have all returned to shake up an election season that was supposed to be a simple economy slugfest. Robert O. Self’s “All in the Family” could help explain why. Mr. Self, a professor of history at Brown University, has heroically researched the history of the culture wars from the early 1960s to the present. He offers a provocative analysis that accounts for today’s alliance between small-government and social conservatives, on the one hand, and welfare-state and social liberals, on the other….

However, I was less enchanted by what followed:

Mr. Self begins his history by describing “breadwinner liberalism” as the status quo of the early and mid-1960s. The architects of the Great Society assumed the primacy of male-earner and female-homemaker families. Labor unions fought for a family wage for their predominantly male membership, the Moynihan Report (1965) raised alarms about black male unemployment, and the first efforts at affirmative action took the form of quotas in municipal contracts for male construction workers. In all these cases “women were largely an afterthought,” Mr. Self writes. Breadwinner liberalism, he argues, was based on a model of “masculine individualism”: hardworking, striving, self-reliant….

The review goes on to recount the book’s take on the Kulturkampf that has plagued our politics since the 1960s. Apparently, the author of the book thinks the changes that have come are all to the good; the reviewer demurs.

All I know is this: In 1960, I could have been comfortable as a liberal. For that matter, in 1960, I could have been comfortable as a conservative. I can see myself having voted for Ike. I think I would have been torn between Nixon and Kennedy. (At the time, I favored Nixon, but I was only 7 years old. I don’t know what I would have done as an adult.)

Whatever happened, and however you define it, I can’t be at home in either camp today. And the Kulturkampf stuff is a big part of the reason why.

The Boy Scout abuse report

Slatest brings this LAT report to our attention:

Hundreds of alleged child molesters were not reported to police by Boy Scouts of America officials over two decades, often giving the abusers a chance to quietly resign rather than risk a hit to the organization’s reputation. The Los Angeles Times reviewed 1,600 of the Boy Scouts’ confidential “perversion files” dated from 1970 to 1991 and found more than 500 cases in which officials learned about abuse directly. In around 80 percent of those cases, there is no record of the Scouts reporting the claims of abuse to authorities and in more than 100 cases there seems to be clear evidence of efforts to hide the abuse. Worst of all, there are clear signs that some of the abusers went on to hurt other children.

Lawyers for the Boy Scouts have been working hard to keep the “perversion files,” which the organization has used since 1919, out of the public eye. Yet as more of them become public, the Boy Scouts could soon face a wave of litigation across the country, although in many states statutes of limitation will prevent the victims from suing.  Boy Scout officials insist they’ve improved their internal process to protect children, noting that since 2010 they require officials to report even the suspicion of abuse to authorities.

Which suggests several things:

  • Golly, I didn’t know so many Boy Scout leaders were Catholic priests! Because, you know, to hear some people talk, that’s the only group that engages in this sort of behavior — even though the evidence indicates that this perversion is no more prevalent among Catholics than among any other group.
  • I had always sort of supposed that the failure to take prosecutorial action on the part of the Church was because of the nature of the organization — that it simply isn’t geared toward punishment of wrongdoing, that it is oriented toward hearing confessions and then granting absolution, however heinous the sin. The Scouts’ failure to report these cases indicates that the problem of letting abusers go free is a more universal problem.
  • Social conservatives will no doubt respond that the mean ol’ media are picking on the Scouts, as they do the Church, on account of it not being on board with this or that “liberal agenda.” And we’re off to the Kultukampf races…
  • And then there’s my own difficulty in ever believing such statistics, which “realists” will scoff at. But I just have always found it difficult to believe that there’s even one person on the planet that would want to sexually abuse children. Much less 500 of them in one organization. I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m just saying it’s kind of mind-blowing.

What’s really wrong with Todd Akin

All the moralizing on this previous post about the work Wesley Donehue is doing for this month’s pariah, Todd Akin, goads me to share what I actually think of Mr. “Legitimate Rape.” Even though I know it’s going to make pretty much everybody mad at me.

Well, here goes…

To begin with, Akin is one of those people who makes you furious because he’s on your side of an issue (if you’re me), and he’s giving people on the other side of the issue more than enough excuse to dismiss you and all who think like you (or, once again, to be more accurate, me) as idiots or evil or both.

The issue here being abortion, not rape. The thing (I think) I agree with him on, that is.

As for being an idiot or evil, well, I reject both with regard to myself, although of course I’m not perfect. With regard to Akin… I don’t think he’s evil, although he possesses a certain very common character flaw (which will be my point, when I get to it) in an extreme form. And as to the idiot part… well, my wife often calls me down for calling people idiots, which is one of my character flaws — and after all, we are specifically enjoined from doing so, and very sternly warned about it, in the Bible.

But… confession time here… when I heard about what Akin said, and then saw a picture of him, one of my first thoughts was, Yes, he looks stupid enough to have done that. Which I know is wrong, to leap to such a conclusion just from looking at someone. I am in fact quite embarrassed to confess it. But there it is.

Basically, Akin tried to make a point that would have been extremely objectionable to most people even if he had put it in the most diplomatic way possible. And then, he managed to put it as offensively as possible. This suggests a sort of genius for offending, but again, I look at him and I think he only stumbled on this perfect combination by accident.

Neither I, nor I suspect his most vehement political opponents (although I could be wrong here) thinks that Akin meant to say that any sort of rape is “legitimate,” in the sense of being licit, or a good thing. So we can set that aside. (And yes, I know I’m setting aside a whole, complex discussion about how some people reject that all cases of rape are “real” rape, but I’m trying to address a separate point, and believe me, this post is going to be long enough.)

And of course, I think he was just trying to defend a political position that I share — the notion that if one truly believes that abortion takes a human life, one cannot defend exemptions for rape or even incest.

And yet, I, too, am deeply offended by what he said. I see it as both foolish and wrong. But then, I think his sin is a very common one.

Finally I get to my point: Like many, many people across the political spectrum, Akin sought to rationalize away any human cost of his own political position. What he did reflects both sloppy thinking and a sort of moral cowardice. And it’s a function of the absolutism that infests our politics today.

Akin and I agree that you can’t have exemptions for rape when you’re talking about a human life. That innocent unborn human didn’t commit the rape, and condemning him or her to death for it is unjust in the extreme. I’m deeply opposed to the death penalty even for murderers, but I can certainly see more justice in that than I can in this.

But here’s where Akin and I diverge: He wants to explain away the consequence of this position. He wants to say, well, if it’s really rape, then the woman won’t get pregnant. Which is amazingly foolish and ignorant, but which seems to arise from a very human desire to believe that no innocent human being will suffer because of the position I’m taking.

I know better. I’m not going to shy away for a moment (I hope) from the fact that the human cost to a woman caught in this kind of situation is horrific, beyond even imagining. I can’t even begin to think of what to say or do that would ease the suffering of a woman in such a situation (aside from such weak expedients as providing material support). I don’t want her to be in that situation, any more than the pro-choice person does. It awakens in me powerfully strong protective impulses, and vindictive ones, including a determination that the person responsible for it must be punished to the fullest extent of the law (while, at the same time, knowing that no amount of punishment could possibly erase this woman’s pain). I am fully aware of the terrible odds her child will face — not only not being wanted by his or her mother, but being the material embodiment of the most horrible moment in her life.

But none of that justifies killing the child, either before or after he or she is born. Not in any truly moral balance that I am capable of conceiving. As much as I understand the pro-choice advocate’s desire for a magic solution that makes at least this one facet of the crime go away for the woman, I can’t see any way that that expedient is justified in a society that is just. It in fact adds another moral horror to that which already so unjustly exists.

It’s not comfortable to face and acknowledge the additional pain to which having to bear this child would condemn a rape victim, but I see no moral alternative to doing so. Akin? He wants to cop out on it.

But that’s a common impulse. Too seldom do any of us face up to the very real consequences of the positions we take. We like to believe that our attitudes are all to the good, that nothing bad would happen if only the things we believe were acted upon. And in the take-no-prisoners absolutism of today’s politics — in which each side wants to see itself as all good, and the other side as all bad — people regularly paint themselves into corners trying to make their positions look as good as possible. And to make themselves feel good about those positions. There are a lot of Todd Akins out there.

For instance… and here’s where I make everybody mad… there are those on the opposite side of the abortion issue who rationalize away the human life that is destroyed by abortion. They say it isn’t a human being at all, even that it’s nothing more than a random collection of cells, and ridding oneself of them has no more moral weight than sloughing off dead skin.

(Not all do this, of course. Right off the bat, I can think of pro-choice friends who have persuaded me that they are fully cognizant that abortion takes an innocent human life and that it is deeply wrong — but that the imperative of choice overrides it. This chills my blood — just as my antiwar friends are chilled by my advocacy of some military actions in spite of my pro-life beliefs — but I can’t criticize them for failing to face reality.)

They say this — that the fetus is not a human being — because they would find the moral burden of believing their position results in the destruction of innocent human life even more unbearable than Akin would find it to contemplate the suffering of a rape victim. (Now, before all my pro-choice friends shout that they say it because they believe it, let me quickly interject that I know you believe it. I just, personally, find it very hard to believe that you would believe such an unlikely thing without a powerful human need to rationalize, which is related to the fact that you are a good and caring person.)

Now to an empiricist, of course, there’s a difference between Akin’s rationalization and the it’s-not-a-human-being rationalization — one that I readily acknowledge. After all, you can physically, scientifically prove that Akin is wrong in his fantasy about true rape not leading to pregnancy. Whereas science can’t prove or disprove that a fetus is human — no matter how strongly I believe it unlikely that smart people would assert that it isn’t, in the absence of this powerful cause for rationalization. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that similar mechanisms are at play.

This dynamic translates to other issues, of course. There are those who advocate war, and blind themselves to the worst aspects of the human cost — such as the deaths of noncombatants, at the most extreme end of that spectrum. On the other side are those who are so opposed to war and its horrific human costs that they try to rationalize away the cause for war — minimizing the evils of the Saddam Hussein regime (how many times have I read that we invaded an inoffensive country that wasn’t doing anything to anybody, as though it were Switzerland?), or the costs of a precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban to rise again.

There are costs both to acting militarily and not acting militarily, and it’s wrong to blind yourself and try to wave them away. For my part, seen as I am here as the bloodthirsty warmonger, I try never to turn my mind from the horrors of war, and I recoil from efforts to make war seem costless just as much as I reject attempts to paint it as never worth engaging in. And for me, the horrible thing about war is not just that innocent civilians, or one’s own soldiers, get killed and maimed. Every armed enemy’s death also diminishes us. (I’m reading right now a phenomenal book about the cost of killing in war, Dave Grossman’s On Killing. It powerfully reinforces something I have long believed — that the greatest price we ask of a soldier is not that he die for his country; the most awful thing we ask of him, the thing that costs him the most, is expecting him to kill for his country.)

Well, I could go on and on. Actually, I have. There are other places I could go with this, carrying this phenomenon out of the realm of life-and-death issues. I could get into how, for instance, in this absolutist political atmosphere, neither those who want more government spending nor those who advocate shrinking government small enough to drown in a bathtub like to face that there are tradeoffs to their positions… but I think this is enough for how…

1st Amendment meant to protect POLITICAL speech

Some of my friends here on the blog occasionally ask whether I ever change my mind about anything. They mistake the certainty, and consistency, with which I express myself for rigidity. There are a number of reasons for this. One is a certain… forcefulness… that creeps into my writing when I’m not trying to hold it back. Another is that, if I express it here, it’s usually an idea that I’ve tested many times over the course of decades. And I’m not likely to shift suddenly on a matter such as that.

But here’s an example of something I’ve changed my mind on…

Back when I was a special-assignments writer at The Jackson Sun in Tennessee — we’re talking late 70s, early 1980 perhaps — I would occasionally fill in when one of the editorial writers was on vacation. On one occasion, I wrote an editorial headlined something like “Yes, even Hustler.”

It had something to do with one of Larry Flynt’s legal battles. Basically, I was asserting that however disgusting his exercise of it may be, the free-press right guaranteed under the First Amendment applied to his publication as well.

Potter Stewart, who knew it when he saw it.

I would not write that today. My respect for the intent of the Framers has grown over the years, and I am far more reluctant to cheapen the Bill of Rights by inferring that they meant to assert a right to publish pornography. No, I’m not inclined to launch a crusade to ban such publications, either (which are almost quaint in view of what is freely available on the Web). I just wouldn’t take up my cudgel in Flynt’s defense today, because to do so would require dragging Madison, Hamilton and Jay into the gutter with him.

And I believe that would be wrong. The intent to protect citizens in expressing political ideas that may offend the government just seemed too clear to me. And no, I don’t accept the convenient canard that obscenity is in itself an inherently political statement.

The courts may not entirely agree with me all the time on this, but in general they have not granted commercial speech, or obscenity, the same protections as political speech.

What brought this to mind was something that Logan Smith — who is roughly the age I was when I wrote that defense of Flynt — posted yesterday on his blog, Palmetto Public Record:

It’s been less than a week since thousands of angry conservatives swarmed Chick-fil-A restaurants in South Carolina and across the country to support the fast food chain’s stance on same-sex marriage. Many expressed outrage that city officials in Boston and Chicago wanted to ban the restaurant, claiming that doing so would somehow violate Chick-fil-A’s “freedom of speech.”

This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of free speech and censorship, of course, but that’s beside the point. At least people are getting politically active — even if their form of activism is buying fried chicken.

However, we do agree that government officials who use regulations to target specific businesses are abusing their power. That’s why we’re waiting for those Chick-fil-A fans to launch a similar flash mob of support for another business being banned by city government for moral reasons — the Taboo Adult Superstore in Columbia.

When he called attention to his post on Twitter this morning, asking, “Why no defense of Columbia sex shop from Chick-fil-A supporters?” I replied, “Perhaps they believe (as do I) that “free speech” refers to POLITICAL speech. The Framers didn’t have sex shops in mind.”

You may argue that what Mr. Cathy engaged in was the exercise of religion, rather than politics, but hey — same amendment. More to the point, he was expressing himself on something that has undeniably become a political issue. And local government types in some jurisdictions were proposing to use governmental power to penalize him for it. (At this point, we could get really strict constructionist and say that this is not the same as Congress passing a law to abridge this right, and that would be an interesting conversation — but irrelevant to the case at hand. We’re not arguing the merits of a lawsuit here, but whether all those people who flocked to Chick-fil-A last week are consistent in their political ideas by not similarly defending a sex shop.)

Now, all of this said, I give Mr. Smith credit for not merely presenting the sort of empty, kneejerk, moral-equivalence argument that I fear I did all those years ago (the editorial is buried in a box somewhere in my garage, and fortunately not readily at hand). He gets into “adverse secondary effects,” which is more sophisticated than what I recall saying.

But I still say that the analogy is a false one. One would in no way be inconsistent to stand up for free speech rights in one case, and not the other. If I had been moved to participate in that Chick-fil-A demonstration, which I was not (aside from being, you know, allergic to chicken), I certainly would have felt no obligation to have defended the latter.

‘If you support Chick-fil-A and free enterprise, give money to Joe.’ Say WHAT?

If you want to know why both sides keep the Culture fires stoked, Joe Wilson makes it clear in this release:

Liberals want to control private industry. Let’s take only the most recent events that have occurred as examples.

First, yesterday was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.  Why?  Because liberals are attacking a private company for using its funds to support the traditional family.

Millions of Americans believe in the traditional family, but Americans also believe in free speech. Chick-fil-A can and should be able to support Christian organizations if it chooses, but liberals won’t be happy until all American businesses toe their liberal line.

Then, we have President Obama telling American business owners that they didn’t build their businesses.  Why? Because he wants to tax businesses even more than current tax rates to supply his overspending.

Businesses and all Americans benefit from infrastructure and education.  But education and infrastructure do not exist without the taxes from our businesses and our citizens either. Instead of tearing down the ideals of the free market, we should be encouraging entrepreneurs and other business owners to hire, grow, expand, and innovate. Because when businesses grow, our roads, our bridges, our students, and all Americans benefit.

So what are liberals telling us?  Don’t stand up for what you believe in.  Don’t try to take credit for your hard work.  That’s apparently the American value system that liberals want, but I reject.

If you reject it too, click here to stand with me against liberals’ disappointing agenda and donate $10, $25 or $50 now.


Joe Wilson

P.S. We must fight for our businesses and our values.Donate $25 now to the campaign because I will continue to stand for jobs and freedom.

It’s all about separating you from your money. It’s difficult for me to believe that anyone in this universe is foolish enough to think that the way to show support for Chick-fil-A is to send money to Joe Wilson, but apparently this sort of thing works, because both sides keep doing it.

Turns out that’s a Kulturkampf cow…

At first, I thought this was the influence of longtime dairyman and Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, since it came from his Senate Republican Caucus. I remember when Harvey used to pass out cow-shaped erasers over at the State House. (Or was that his brother Bob? No, I believe it was Harvey.)

Now, I see it’s something else. Sigh. The Kultukampf does go on, doesn’t it?

Dang. I heard something about this flap on the radio the other day, and it reminded me of something else entirely that I wanted to share here on the blog, and now I can’t remember what it was.

Oh, well. It will come to me again at some point…

Hoping Obama won’t really run this way

Maybe y’all have time to read this piece by John Heilemann in New York Magazine. I don’t, not today. If you do, please get back and tell me that things don’t really look as dark as they do at the beginning:

The contours of that contest are now plain to see—indeed, they have been for some time. Back in November, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, two fellows at the Center for American Progress, identified the prevailing dynamics: The presidential race would boil down to “demographics versus economics.” That the latter favor Mitt Romney is incontestable. From high unemployment and stagnant incomes to tepid GDP growth and a still-pervasive sense of anxiety bordering on pessimism in the body politic, every salient variable undermines the prospects of the incumbent. The subject line of an e-mail from the Romney press shop that hit my in-box last week summed up the challenger’s framing of the election concisely and precisely: “What’s This Campaign Going to Be About? The Obama Economy.”

The president begs to differ. In 2008, the junior senator from Illinois won in a landslide by fashioning a potent “coalition of the ascendant,” as Teixeira and Halpin call it, in which the components were minorities (especially Latinos), socially liberal college-educated whites (especially women), and young voters. This time around, Obama will seek to do the same thing again, only more so. The growth of those segments of the electorate and the president’s strength with them have his team brimming with confidence that ­demographics will trump economics in November—and in the process create a template for Democratic dominance at the presidential level for years to come…

Y’all know how I feel about Identity Politics. I want leaders who want to lead all of us, not this or that arbitrarily selected subset. Obama, to me, is the guy who inspired a victorious crowd in Columbia to chant, on the night of the 2008 South Carolina primary, “Race doesn’t matter!” Amen, said I. The atmosphere that night — when voters rejected the continued partisan strife that the Clinton campaign seemed to offer — was one in which we put our divisions behind us, and work toward building a better country together, as one people.

And if there’s anything more distressing in my book than Identity Politics, it’s Kulturkampf. Those couple of paragraphs are enough to push me toward political despair on that count. The next two grafs are worse:

But if the Obama 2012 strategy in this regard is all about the amplification of 2008, in terms of message it will represent a striking deviation. Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’ ” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

The Obama effort at disqualifying Romney will go beyond painting him as excessively conservative, however. It will aim to cast him as an avatar of revanchism. “He’s the fifties, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward—that’s the basic construct,” says a top Obama strategist. “If you’re a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re young, or you’ve gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, ‘This [f*@#ing] guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been part of that.’ ”

Yeah, that’s all we need. A campaign that sees itself as an army of indignant minorities, feminists, gays and young people up against a coalition of self-interested white males, Ayn Randers, birthers and nativists, with both sides convinced that it is at war with the other. And each subset being motivated not by what’s good for the country, but by what it sees as advantageous to itself as a group.

So much for the United States.

All that’s left to me at this point is to hope the campaign plays out differently from the way this writer envisions it.