Sunday, April 7, 2013

Are Liberals Winning the Culture Wars?

The answer is a guarded yes.

The culture wars, to me, have to do with the social wedge issues used mainly by conservatives to gin up their base before elections. In fairness to conservatives, though, these family and social values are fiercely held, especially by white Christian conservatives. These values are often driven by the men in this cohort, as Christian evangelicals broadly subscribe to an authoritarian, father-figure model of family structure.

Now to the scoreboard: Let's look at past, present, and future battles:
  • Birth control. Use of the pill and condoms, etc. have long been accepted, even among religious groups like Catholics whose leadership condemns them. The country has struggled getting to the extensions of birth control, including RU-486 use, morning-after pill availability, and basic acceptance of women's health issues as a regular part of insurance packages. We've also had the open battles against Planned Parenthood and sex education on the state level, with red states often sabotaging sex education while promoting abstinence-only solutions to teen pregnancy. Generally speaking, liberals in blue states have been holding their own in these battles over the years. Obamacare's pressing for free birth control drove the White Christians absolutely crazy.
  • Don't ask/don't tell. This was mercifully put to death almost two years ago. Good riddance.
  • Medical marijuana use. It's been adopted by 18 states and the District of Columbia, and more recently it's been legalized for recreational use in Washington and Colorado. It was recently decriminalized in Rhode Island, and decriminalization is supported in a number of other states, including Vermont and Hawaii.
  • Abortion. This has been a hit-and-miss issue, with deeply red states like North Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi trying to trim around the edges of federal law, with North Dakota the most egregious, making abortion all but out of reach in the state. It is less seriously challenged in other states, as in Ohio, where a personhood amendment petition failed to get the required signatures.
  • School vouchers. I put this in the values category because the fight is largely driven by an attempt to divert tax dollars toward homeschooling and religious education, though there is a strong undercurrent of anti-unionism in all voucher efforts. Again, most blue states hold out against vouchers, but red-state efforts have yielded results in Louisiana and, recently, Indiana.
Present battles:
  • Same-sex marriage. This battle is largely over, even if the Supreme Court surprises us with a negative decision. The most widely expected result would be the overturning of both California's Proposition 8 and the federal DOMA act based not on constitutional (14th Amendment) grounds but rather on a lack-of-standing ruling -- which kicks it back to the most recent appellate court rulings that overturned them -- or declaring this a states-rights issue, which would have the similar effect of overturning them without making a 14th Amendment claim. If somehow a 14th Amendment decision is reached -- declaring this an equal protection matter -- so much the better. Any decision will have little to do with the eventual outcome. We've turned the corner as a nation on this issue. The Supremes could, however, really speed things up with either of the positive rulings.
  • Gun control. We're making progress on the state level, with Colorado and Connecticut passing sweeping gun control measures. With stalemate likely in Congress -- I see all attempts at new regulations failing -- we'll need to look for state progress, unless of course we have more mass shooting tragedies, which, as we all know, is only a matter of time.
  •  Rape in the military, rape in society-at-large. Here is a dicey issue that just won't go away. The end of DADT and the end of restrictions on women in combat will help, but changing the military culture will take time. More's the pity. As for society-at-large, the Steubenville rape showed the fissures in our society, where sympathy for the perpetrators can often overwhelm the more rightful sympathy for the victim. We've got a long way to go with rape.
  • Birth control just won a major victory, with a federal judge ruling that the morning-after pill must be made available over the counter for all ages, no longer requiring a prescription for those 16 and younger.
  • Equal pay (and respect) for women. A really challenging project, but one that's been underway for a while. When Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, this will take a great leap forward.
Future battles:
  • Gun control will stay on the horizon, with states making occasional progress, but little progress on the federal level, absent a horrible new massacre.
  • Birth control will fade as and issue as Obamacare makes it widely available and free for women with insurance plans. White Christian men will go crazy, as I said, but the battle's over.
  • Marijuana legalization will likely spread as approval broadens. A Pew Research Center poll released just yesterday shows that Americans support pot legalization 52 percent to 45 percent. A whopping 72 percent say that federal law enforcement efforts aren't worth it.
  • Drug enforcement in general. While there are few signs that people support legalizing hard drugs like cocaine, meth, or heroin, there is declining support for the War on Drugs that has been a dismal and costly failure for years. Watch as support further slips in the years to come. I hope the model goes from incarceration to rehabilitation, treating drugs as a health problem, not a criminal one.
  • Income inequality. This one will take a while to shake out. But as people come to equate lower and lower prospects for the poor and middle class with the always increasing prosperity of the upper-uppers, people may be ready to oust the usual suspects in government and get some of that money headed back down, through redistribution programs, or better yet, through better labor practices. One answer will be, one can hope, a resurgent labor-union movement.
 I see these culture wars on a broader perspective, too. Issues like rape and sexual assault are being addressed in the Middle East and most especially in India, as people come to terms with the cultural failures long tolerated. I don't expect success overnight, but just as with the Arab Spring, it'll be one step forward, and two or three steps back for the foreseeable future. But progress is in the air worldwide.

There are all kinds of reasons to be optimistic. Changing demographics have a lot to do with it, and we shouldn't discount the effects that global communication brought on by social media can have here in America and abroad. These effects can be overstated or overinterpreted, but something is happening, and it has a lot to do with the way young people communicate and process the experiences of their lives.

An awful of of it has to do, I think, with how the morally judgmental nature of religion is slowly becoming muted in our society. As fewer and fewer children are raised and educated in an overly religious society, the more and more tolerant they are, generally, about sex, race, creed, and color.

Simply put, more and more people just aren't freaked out about this shit anymore. It's about time.

Just as George Will said about gay marriage, that the opposition is literally dying off, so it is with all these social wedge issues. There's an old-world outlook, say in the South and up the Plains, but a bi-coastal, new-world outlook is slowly but steadily supplanting it.

This is a funny observation from a movement progressive (me) who cut his chops in the counter-cultural revolutionary days of the 60s, who thought that we were going to march and protest our way to the world in which we wanted to live. Maybe that's just not the way these battles are won anymore. Maybe new generations just get bored with the old battles.

Gays? Big deal. Blacks and Latinos? What, you mean my friends? Women in management? Oh, you mean my boss? Women as political leaders? Oh you mean my senators Feinstein and Boxer? Women in combat? Why not? Can we talk about something less boring? Hey, let's share this joint and listen to Jack White, okay?

That's maybe a little too simplistic, but I don't know. What if we woke up and the young said, "Hey, I think the NRA is just sad, you know?"

Yeah, they are, you know? Dude, you're so right. They're just sad. And maybe that's how we win.

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