So it seems Republican voters have finally turned. With the arsenal of election-rigging techniques the Republican Party has been working up since 2000-including caging and purge lists, push polls, insufficient machines in Democratic areas, uncounted provisional ballots, robocalls, unfair rules from corrupt secretaries of state-it has long been abundantly clear that Democrats will never take office with a narrow win.
And those are just the surface obstacles. The deep structure of our electoral system tilts to the right: the senate is an anti-democratic institution with empty-box red states getting the same number of senators as far more populous blue states; the mid-census gerrymandering of districts favors Republicans across the country; and the electoral college's winner-take-all rules and weighting in favor of smaller states blunt liberal gains.
Given all of that, it's hard to fault Howard Dean's fifty-state strategy of putting up conservative Democrats to run in conservative states. It worked. That's the good news and the bad news.
The good news is obvious but after such a long drought of hope, it bears repeating and savoring. We all have to heave a big sigh of relief at seeing the backside of the likes of Rick Santorum, George Allen, and Mike DeWine-or better yet, let out a whoop of joy and do a happy dance. John Conyers heading the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Waxman with subpoena power, Bernie Sanders in the Senate-it feels like a weight has been lifted.
The bad news is it consolidates the political center very far to the right-to the right of the Constitution, in fact, if recent legislation is not rolled back. If we're not careful, the Democratic win could end up representing a profoundly pragmatic, middle-manager solution to an all-out assault on our freedom. Impeachment off the table, a return to pay-as-you-go rules, implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations-these all indicate a return to the Clinton credo of winning by inches when what we have lost is our whole way of life.
In an attempt to hold on to the voters who gave them this political opportunity, Democrats are willing to restrict debate around the question of how we got to this sorry pass in the first place. They want to start cleaning up the wreckage before we have a chance to think about what our recent history means. We can't let that happen, not least because it would be a mistake to imagine the culture war is over.
But many on the left have never acknowledged its existence in the first place. Progressives like to use the phrase "social wedge issues" instead. Sounds less like a paranoid fantasy. But it is a paranoid fantasy, on a mass level, and we would do well to remember that as we sift through the rubble of our system of checks and balances.
While BushCo has been rolling out one initiative after another in a deliberate effort to transform our entire culture-so fast it literally makes your head spin-the left's response has been to painstakingly compile evidence of wrongdoing in area after area, slowly connecting the dots of criminal intent and design over the whole expanse of our government and legal system. It's like doing an ergonomic analysis of a wrecking ball's destructive swathe through our government-a reaction right-wing culture warriors counted on.
Whereas they are at war. That means, quite simply, that they have rejected the normal rule of law. They do not recognize the legitimacy of secular authority. They are answering to a higher power in a fight against evil. The pagans and the feminists, the gays and the lesbians, the abortionists, People for the American Way, liberals, the Democrat Party-we are what's wrong with this country.
Not only will they not tolerate us, they consider tolerance itself a great moral weakness, one they do not want taught to their children. The pervasiveness of tolerant attitudes in secular culture is one of the prime motivations behind the culture war: they need to stamp it out. That's the explanation for the apparently nonsensical fuss over Sponge Bob and Postcards from Buster. As Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said about the Mark Foley sex scandal: "When we elevate tolerance and diversity to the guidepost of public life, this is what we get-men chasing 16-year-old boys around the halls of Congress."
In this climate, the defeat in Arizona of a law against civil unions is big news. The fact that a ban on gay marriage passed in Virginia with less than 60 percent of the vote is earth-shattering.
When liberals frame marriage equality as a wedge issue, they answer an obvious question: Why are these initiatives politically useful to the right? We can all see that marriage equality has the ability to set progressive constituencies against each other at the same time that it distracts the whole country from real concerns. But in a recent article titled, "War, religion, and gay rights," James Carroll asked a better question: "When gay people openly assert their identities as such, whether through parades or the demand for full and equal social recognition, reactionaries cannot stand it. Why?"
The answer lies in that one all-important word: "equal." The true crux of the religious right's morality is hierarchical, unequal sex roles.
Not very long ago, rigid sex roles encompassed all the knowledge necessary to be a good man or a good woman, a good citizen, parent, child. Those roles, with strict dress codes to match, enforced patriarchal inequality and went deep into the economy, designating high-paying, high-status jobs for men and lower-paying jobs, if any at all, for women. It took a bloody civil war to break up the slave economy and begin a movement toward racial equality. It's no wonder that efforts to break up thousands of years of unquestioned male economic and social dominance have resulted in a cold civil war.
Gay marriage equality and insistence on a woman's right to control her own body are direct affronts to the type of family Christianists see as the foundation of civilization, a family where Mother obeys Father and children obey both parents, a family where unquestioning obedience to authority is seen as the bedrock strength of the society. These societies need to be strong precisely because of their intolerance: there can be only one One True God. All fundamentalist theocracies are, by their very nature, at war with other fundamentalist theocracies and with secular society.
This explains how it is that so many of our fellow countrymen-the most religious among us, if you take them at their own estimation-could enthusiastically support pre-emptive war, torture, and the overthrow of civil liberties, secular society, and the rule of law. In other words, we are where we are today not in spite of Christianist family values but because of them.
Although it may have been politically astute for Howard Dean to follow up the success of his fifty-state strategy with a Saturday Democratic radio address showing that he is not embarrassed to talk about religious beliefs and family values, we would all be better off if we returned our focus to the primary political unit of a democracy, which is not the family but the individual. All individuals should be equal under the impartial rule of law and are entitled to respect.
On the other hand, we are not obligated to respect others' religious beliefs, especially if they are subversive to the rule of law and infringe on others' pursuit of happiness. I certainly do not respect the Christianist family values that have contributed to our slide toward authoritarianism. As far as I'm concerned, they are a very big part of the problem. In this age, with its 24/7 spin and media saturation, any culture that does not produce individuals capable of critical, independent thought is already halfway down the road to fascism.
As for me, I take the right-wing culture warriors at their word when they say they will not tolerate us. We defeat them or they defeat us, that's the deal. And it's fine with me. Like the Dixie Chicks say, I'm not ready to make nice. Just the opposite, baby.