Election Opens New Fronts in “Culture War”

November 3, 2008 at 4:37 am Leave a comment

The presidential campaign “culture war” has taken a new turn this year,
but with just two days to go before the election, the souring economy
has voters thinking with their pocketbooks rather than their passions.

Republican John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin,
have tried to cast the election battle into a fight between big city
elites and residents of small towns some Republicans have dubbed “real
America.”

With stock markets plunging and millions of Americans facing the
loss of homes or jobs, issues like gay marriage and abortion rights —
which Republicans have used to galvanize their conservative Christian
base in the past — are no longer voters’ top concerns.

Analysts say the culture war has been playing out differently
against the backdrop of the economic crisis — seen as the main reason
for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama‘s lead in the polls — with a focus on broader values and character.

“The front line of the culture war battles has shifted from policy
to broader world views, it has shifted to a coastal elitism versus
America’s heartland,” said Rice University political sociologist
Michael Lindsay.

Palin, a former mayor of a small Alaska town, has become a leader in
the Republican battle against “liberal elites” like Obama, who famously
stoked anger in April when he suggested that “bitter” small town voters
were clinging to guns and religion because of economic hardship.

“Palin has become emblematic of this battle,” said Lindsay, noting
that many heartland voters take media criticism and TV parodies of her
as “personal affronts to them.”

For some on both sides of the political divide, the conflict has drawn deep lines between “us” and “them.”

“The new front, to the extent that there is one, is a rural/urban
conflict of values with Palin talking about the real America, the
patriotic America,” said Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University
in Dallas.

These battle lines also reflect a conservative backlash against a
permissive culture widely held to have taken root in the 1960s.

‘FIGHTING 1968’

“There has been a widespread effort to associate Obama with 60s
radicalism. It’s culture war in different ways. It is a confirmation
that we have been fighting 1968 ever since 1968,” said David Gushee, a
professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and a leading
moderate evangelical activist.

For example, McCain’s campaign has worked to link Obama with 1960s
radical William Ayers, now an education professor in Chicago who has
served on a board with Obama, and brand the Democrat a socialist.

Ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage in California and Florida and
one to effectively outlaw abortion in South Dakota have stirred both
parties, but have not obtained the national prominence of similar
initiatives in 2004.

But on conservative Christian radio, abortion and same-sex unions
remain constant topics of conversation and news reports — as well as
broader questioning of Obama’s character. 

On Saturday, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention began
his nationwide weekly radio show with a discussion of the gay marriage
ballot battles.

“There is an unshakable base of the Republican Party for whom the
culture wars are still a critical front in the broader battle,” said
Jillson. “It took a dramatic economic shock to shake some people off
the culture wars.”

But the culture war edges have also been dulled by the fact that both sides have to some extent gone mainstream.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in three states and gay characters
are regularly and positively portrayed in popular culture. Polls over
the years have shown a decline in opposition to same-sex marriage, but
it remains strong.

On the other side, one in four U.S. adults now count themselves as
evangelical and tens of millions of Americans believe the Bible is
God’s literal word.

“We are now a nation of uneasily co-existing sub-cultures,” said Gushee.

“All of these expressions of American culture are mainstream but
they don’t accept that every other sub-culture is legitimate,” he said.

Source: Reuters

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Entry filed under: Christian, National. Tags: , , , , , , .

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