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Two Essays And An Observation

By Timothy Burke and Ken Layne. I don't want to wholly, or even necessarily partially, endorse what either has to say. I'm trying to take a moment of un-blog-like reflection before explaining What It All Means, but these are both thought-provoking.

My insight du jour on this topic, however, is to remember that it was we seculars who started the "culture war" (albeit before I was born) and that this has certain implications. 40 years ago, in the wake of the liberal landslide of 1964, the state of American social policy was far more objectionable than anything one could conceive of being implemented today. Jesusland with its exceptionless abortion bans, anti-sodomy laws (to say nothing of civil unions or gay marriage), and school prayer stretched from sea to shining sea. And Jesusland -- which is to say the entire United States of America -- was also Whiteytown with its Jim Crow in the South and less formal, but almost equally pernicious, mechanisms of social exclusion operating in the North and the West. And liberals struck, with a wave of court decisions, legislation, and work to change social attitudes that continued moving forward from the Civil Rights Act to the Voting Rights Act to Roe v. Wade to civil unions in Vermont to Will and Grace to the Massachusetts Supreme Court to Gavin Newsome's quasi-legal San Francisco marriage ceremonies. Without approving of the backlash, one can see why it happened, why it shouldn't surprise anyone, and take comfort in the knowledge that the clock will not be rolled back on these issues to where it was in 1964 or even, on most fronts, to where it was in 1994.

November 5, 2004 | Permalink

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» Note by Nagel from Nicomachus
I was reading Concealment and Exposure yesterday, and thought this bit was particularly appropos. One of our problems, as liberal attitudes become more prevalent, is how to draw the line between public and private tolerance. It is always risky... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 5, 2004 11:24:40 AM

Comments

I'd say your problem isn't with the nature of most of the causes you're championing. It's with the fact that you got lazy, and started relying on the courts to impose your victories on a public you hadn't bothered to persuade.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 5, 2004 10:33:59 AM

Mabye it's time for liberals to realize how much damage judicial activism has done to their cause. They joke about seceding from "Jesusland," but can't stand the thought of any states having any restriction on abortion. How about instead of secession, we just try federalism with a little tolerance for difference and some patience? The fact is, the liberals are winning the culture wars, but change takes time. Even in the south, polls showed broad support for some sort of gay partnership rights. Liberals should listen to Megan McArdle:
As it happens, I'm pro-choice (reluctantly), but I'm against Roe v. Wade; I think the matter should be decided at the state level, and NARAL can use all the money it raises to lobby to provide bus tickets and nice hotel rooms to women wanting abortions in states where it is illegal.

Posted by: ed | Nov 5, 2004 10:36:19 AM

While we're thinking about why we lost--can we dispense with the snarky "Jesusland" comments? Dontcha think there's a possibility that one reason these folks distrust and don't like us is the attitude liberal intellectuals display towards the most important thing in these folks lives? We're opening a door for right wing extremists by giving them material to convince Christians that their faith is under attack by liberals--gay marriage, abortion, etc aren't the main issue, just the latest evidence butressing those feelings of attack. If we hadn't picked a fight over God to begin with, maybe gay marriage would be less of a political football.

There are plenty of liberal Christians, there are plenty of secular social conservatives, and there are plenty of Christians who think that the intolerance and judgemental messages of our buddies on the right, not to mention the Iraq war, are not in keeping with the teachings of Christ. But we do ourselves no favors with those who would naturally agree over issues like caring for the poor and foreign affairs, by dismissing them as "Jesusland" or joining the right is belittling their faith to solely a matter of sexual ethics and support for government enforcement thereof.

Posted by: flip | Nov 5, 2004 10:45:51 AM

Hey, don't blame us boomers for everything.

I view the current "culture war" as at least going back as far as Darwin/Huxley (anybody remember a guy called Scopes). The larger culture war may go back to Kant, Rousseau,Voltaire,Erasmus/Reformation, and that damn clown Socrates.

Levi-Strauss and "hot and cold" (or is it "fast and slow). There seems to a conflict within the minds of individuals, and a difference in the concept of the purpose of a society.

And you really need to read Chamber's "Witness" to see that our conflicts have seeds in the early fifties.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 5, 2004 10:49:39 AM

The fact that civil rights, voting rights, and integration were won only by federalization and lawsuits argues strongly against Brett's obsessively-repeated slogans. I do have a feeling that the civil rights model was pushed one step farther than it should have been. Domestic partnership without gay marriage isn't much like slavery or Jim Crow.

The "social issues" are, to an amazing degree, the straw that stirs the drink in American politics.

Look at it this way: imagine Jerry Falwell, The Rev. Moon, Pat Buchanan, and the chief Mormon leader in a room together sharing some quality time and ranting about queers.

Religiously, the four of them are all mutually heretical to a degree that, during the period when burning at the stake was the routine punishment for heresy, each of them would have burned the other three at the stake.

But they are united in opposition to secular freedom and sexual liberation.

Posted by: Zizka | Nov 5, 2004 10:51:06 AM

Megan McArdle writes: and NARAL can use all the money it raises to lobby to provide bus tickets and nice hotel rooms to women wanting abortions in states where it is illegal.

Yeah, that's a real workable solution for a 16 year-old girl that get's knocked up, smack in the middle of a "red state" and wants to keep her desire for an abortion, and the fact that she had an abortion altogether, from her non-understanding family and their less understanding friends - lest she shame them in front of the whole community.

Instate that regime long enough and the phrase "vacation in California" or "trip to Disneyland" will be code for "did you hear that Jones girl - you know, the slutty one - had an abortion? Jim and Peggy must be devastaed."

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 5, 2004 10:51:11 AM

Unless, of course, liberals really believe Christianity is incompatible with liberal values and issues (which would be ironic, since the Christian focus on individual salvation and the protestant reformation helped open the door for liberal thinking). In which case, we're stuck on the losing end of the culture war for a loooong time.

Posted by: flip | Nov 5, 2004 10:51:38 AM

I would, at least on the surface, agree with Brett Bellmore. We did not balance enough of the persuading (although I have no problems with Roe v. Wade, except in its clumsiness, the movement towards giving more responsibility to people throughout society could have been sold better over time).

Posted by: theCoach | Nov 5, 2004 10:52:18 AM

"...devastated."

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 5, 2004 10:52:24 AM

You are right Brett! How dare anyone use the courts to address civil injustice!!! In another two hundred years, we wouldn't have to had Brown vs Board of Education. Why couldn't those uppity negros just wait it out?

Posted by: Rob | Nov 5, 2004 10:54:02 AM

I agree with the previous posters and Matt's post. One thing I've wondered about regarding gay marriage is how much it is really a grass roots phenomenon and how much it was pushed by gay activists in places like Washington D.C. (Barney Frank seems to think it is the latter). If it was more driven by gay activist groups, I wonder if the problem isn't that those groups are partly motivated by a need to keep fundraising going, to have some kind of new cause. If that's at least partly how the whole issue came about then it may not just be the courts that are the problem, but also that liberals don't exactly have the best way of developing new policies.

Posted by: Chris Rugaber | Nov 5, 2004 10:56:35 AM

I think that the whole idea that the right-wing reaction is the result of the hurt feelings of the Red Staters is a bunch of crap. (It also sounds like the "politics of envy" of dumb, lazy people).

The 16% of the electiorate that supported Bush on the basis of "values" aren't going to change their minds if we start talking nice to them. They want victory on their issues, and even if we gave them THAT they still wouldn't trust us.

Some posters, speaking for themselves and claiming to speak for the red state majority, do whine a lot about liberal intellectual rudeness. But to me, it's hard to have much respect for people who believe Fox News and refuse all other sources of information, or who are waiting for the seven-headed beast to rise from the sea in order to trigger the building of the Temple, or whatever the fuck they believe. As long as people believe some of that crap, I think that they're irredeemable.

Posted by: Zizka | Nov 5, 2004 10:57:53 AM

Jesusland? Hey, as long as you’re being hateful and intolerant, how about them ragheads in Mohammedland?

Posted by: ostap | Nov 5, 2004 11:00:32 AM

Amen, flip. Liberalism isn't incompatable with Christianity; it's incompatable with Jesusland's version of Christianity. Social justice as a moral issue would play well to some Christian voters- not a majority, necessarially, but enough to swing the results.

Posted by: incognito | Nov 5, 2004 11:00:46 AM

Ed's post was special, wasn't it?

First off, citing Megan McArdle on anything is pretty idiotic.

Second, the GOP could easily have restrictions on late-term abortions tomorrow if they wanted it. But they don't--they want the issue more than their self-pious reverence for human life which, apparently, doesn't extend to anyone not a fetus.

Posted by: Jadegold | Nov 5, 2004 11:02:29 AM

"Religiously, the four of them are all mutually heretical to a degree"

It is extremely important to realize that our problems are not about religion. We have Episopalians who would have no problem with a gay married Bishop, and Baptists who say that such a position is definitive proof that such people aren't really Christians. Very religious ante-bellum Southerners held slaves. It is not about religion, not about Christianity. At All. Get this thru your heads.

It is about culture.

Now, can secular humanists even have or develop a culture? I need Weber or Durkheim or something here. I think a culture needs mysticism, and the totalitarian pluralists are going to have a hard time developing a culture that can compete.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 5, 2004 11:08:43 AM

The country isn't split into red and blue states, it's divided between the reality based community - those of us who try to deal with reality, and the angry enfranchised majority - who think controlling the presidency, congress and senate isn't nearly enough, dammit, they want some respect to!

Posted by: Michael Farris | Nov 5, 2004 11:13:24 AM

The advantage of letting states decide would be that it would allow people to vote with their feet, and then we would no longer have to argue about whose model was more successful.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 5, 2004 11:17:40 AM

Just wanted to say about "Judicial Activism" that it

1. has undoubtedly done more good than harm.

2. wouldn't exist if we (Americans), taking the largest view possible, didn't want it.

Culture war may not look so good today, but remember that that is how progress occurs, and liberals are very good at progress. Our values clash, over the long term tolerance and justice win because they're way, way more attractive, and the world becomes more liberal. If that weren't true, liberalism would have died long ago.

Posted by: Marshall | Nov 5, 2004 11:18:27 AM

It's not the policy positions of the Democrats which are the problem. It's the approach. Simply saying we will increase the minimum wage doesn't persuade people to vote for Democrats. It can come off sounding like pandering. Showing a respect for the work done by minimum wage workers and justifying an increase in their wage with benefits that will be shared by everyone is more persuasive. Nominating candidates who have never worked a minimum wage job, or gone without health insurance, or sent their children to public schools makes that message much less convincing.

Posted by: Just Karl | Nov 5, 2004 11:20:39 AM

Yeah, that's a real workable solution for a 16 year-old girl that get's knocked up, smack in the middle of a "red state" and wants to keep her desire for an abortion, and the fact that she had an abortion altogether, from her non-understanding family and their less understanding friends - lest she shame them in front of the whole community.

Socaljustice: you make it sound as if federalism is some kind of whacky, unimaginably impractical idea, and that federalist solutions are wildly unattainable.

Sure, one can posit this or that scenario that might not be "solved" if states are permitted to decide such matters locally. But the question is: is the imposition by the courts of national standards on abortion (or homosexual marriage, or choose your social issue) helpful for our national political life. I think the answer is clearly "no". I mean, it's not like there's no mechanism to deal with such controversies: state legislatures have been crafting laws for a couple of centuries. They know how to do it. And as has been pointed out many times, the majority of the American populace already lived in states with legal, accessible abortion prior to Roe. Has the forced extenstion of New York's and California's preferences to Utah and Kansas really been worth it?

(Although why the f**k should I give a damn? My side's using red state resentment with spectacular success. On second thought, please ignore everything I just wrote and fight with all your might for an activist liberal judiciary).

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Nov 5, 2004 11:24:24 AM

Now, can secular humanists even have or develop a culture?

Eh? What about morals? Values? Are those possible? Do New Yorkers have a culture?

Get a grip, people. Take a step back. Politics is a game. You win by getting more votes. The Democrats are not in terrible shape, but they need some new long-term (better branding) and short-term strategies to succeed. They need to get aggressive.

The Republican Party figured this out years ago.

Posted by: Barbar | Nov 5, 2004 11:25:27 AM

P.B. Almeida:

Socaljustice: you make it sound as if federalism is some kind of whacky, unimaginably impractical idea, and that federalist solutions are wildly unattainable.

I do? Really? By talking about one issue that has a grave impact on a segment of the population with no right to vote?

I don't think so.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 5, 2004 11:27:11 AM

Now you're talking sense. Some reminders:

The election was close.

The Republicans built a coalition on the war on terror, deficit-funded tax cuts, big spending, tough talking, and, yes, the religious right. That's not an unbeatable combination for ever.

The "moral values" element actually alienated a large number of traditional republicans, but many of them stayed with Bush over defence issues.

If before the election, you were told that 16% of the electorate would vote for Bush based on traditional conservative values, would you have started ranting about "Jesusland" and the possibility of seceding, or would you have said "Duh" and worked on the other 84%?

Posted by: Andrew McGuinness | Nov 5, 2004 11:30:59 AM

"The fact that civil rights, voting rights, and integration were won only by federalization and lawsuits argues strongly against Brett's obsessively-repeated slogans."

The fact that civil rights, voting rights, and integration were all based on ratified constitutional amendments, which abortion and same-sex marriage are not, has nothing to do with this? If I REALLY wanted to be snarky, I'd point out that the civil rights revolution would have happened back in the late 1800's, if not for... Democratic judicial activism.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 5, 2004 11:32:37 AM

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