Saturday, January 20, 2007


The Cheap Rhetoric of Culture War

You may or may not recall Jerry Falwell's remarks on Sept. 13, 2001 blaming liberals for the attacks two days earlier.

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen,'" Falwell said to Pat Robertson in a guest appearance on Robertson's "700 Club."

Most of us not on the Right quickly wrote off these comments as the rantings of the goofball that we Falwell to be. But the Right persists with this notion that the alleged "anything goes" spirit of the Left is to blame for the attacks of 9/11. Dinesh D'Souza now makes the same assertion, albeit lacquered over with a pseudo-scholarly veneer, in his new book, "The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11." The book is apparently so bad that customers give it an average review of 2 1/2 stars (I'm sure right-wingers will now claim that Amazon has a liberal bias). Have you ever heard of a customer review so poor on Amazon?

D'Souza writes: "I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world."

It brings to mind "Culture Warrior," Bill O'Reilly's recent literary effort at spewing self-righteousness and whipping up his wingnut base into a frenzy. I'm sure you've heard about his new lexicon he's imposed on us concerning "traditionalists" (people who love America and God, drive pickups and listen to country music) and "secular progressives" (francophile atheists who drive Volvos and enjoy hot beverages from Starbuck's).

Which brings me to my belated point: Aren't you sick of hearing about the culture war? Do you really believe these guys' sincerity or do you think they're filled with self-serving, sanctimonious crap.

Don't get me wrong, as a teacher, I hate that our kids are exposed to movies, television and music are filled with violence and all manner of anti-social, indecent content. I hate that our dumbed-down overstimulated youth culture celebrates so much of what is bad in this world. I can't stand that kids waste so much of their youth playing video games and refuse to pick up books or newspapers. But frankly, I'm also sick of all the contrived, calculated, totally empty culture war rhetoric from conservatives. After 30 years, what has the reletntless, aggrieved outrage of the Falwells, Robertsons, Dobsons and O'Reillys gotten us? Absolutely nothing. Our society is worse off than when these guys first started moaning and complaining in the 1970s. In fact, they've only contibuted to this morass by striving diligently to lower the standards of public discourse and statesmanship.

Hollywood and Madison Avenue won't change. It's a battle we lost a long time ago through the Left's insistence 40 years ago on social de-evolution and the Right's ongoing worship of corporate America and its insistence that anything is permissable in the pursuit of a dollar.

But if you want to know who's really to blame, look in the mirror. In America, the public wants what the public gets. All this garbage that we pretend outrages us we really eat up with a voracious collective appetite. My outrage with Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton is spent, knowing full well that they and their friends won't change. My true outrage is with a lot of the parenting I see these days. Here's what really outrages me:

1. Parents who take their children into R-rated movies.
2. Parents who don't monitor what their children watch on TV.
3. Parents who allow their children unrestricted Internet usage.
4. Parents who turn their children's bedrooms into self-contained entertainment centers.
5. Parents who allow video games to take over their house.
6. Parents who let their children stay up until all hours, who think nothing of pulling their kids out of school for a whole week because the lines are shorter at Disney World in January.

If you want to fight a culture war - and sadly, I don't think very many Americans really want to - let's start fighting it at home. Let's start acting like grownups. Don't restrict TV and video games. Throw the damn things out and start really interacting as a family. I hear so many parents talk about how hard it is to raise kids in todays environment, and I realize that many parents are heroically and truly acting as adults and building character and values into their children. Sadly, I'm also convinced that most parents either aren't trying hard at all or harbor good intentions and show poor follow-through. Perhaps this is all cheap talk from one who has chosen, at least for now, to be childless. But then again, parenthood is a conscious choice, and with that choice comes a deep responsibility to step up and be adult.

But let's face it, most Americans won't have any of that, because such radical steps require sacrifice and character, and that's no fun. Falwell and O'Reilly know this damn well, and that's why they never point fingers at the average American, but merely at faceless entities like Hollywood. Let Brittany Spears get some character, but don't ask us to give up our Xboxes.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The silence is broken

OK, so I've been reeeeaaaalllly bad about keeping up this blog. I guess after Nov. 8's excitement died down, I chose to be quiet for a while. Now let's talk about this and that.

First Hundred Hours
The first 100 hours of Democrats' reign in Congress have passed with little fanfare. I've heard little analysis or even basic reporting of what actually was accomplished during this time. I'll look into that. If nothing else, I'm sure it was far more successful than the first hundred hours of the Republicans' Contract with America, which fizzled into a lot of ideological hot air and almost nothing of substance. Stay tuned...

Have you noticed the virtually complete lack of letters on newspaper opinion pages since November by Democrats telling Republicans to quit whining and get over it? Such discourse has often been the afteraffect of Republican victories, but has been noticeably absent now that the shoe is on the other foot. It's one thing to be pleased with one's own victory. Gloating and poor sportsmanship, however, are something completely different.

The NPR Alternative
This morning I tuned into KWMU, our local NPR station, to find it drowned out on our radio by KSIV, a local purveyor of right-wing "Christian" talk. I left it on, hoping to learn more about how to live a Christian life.

First I heard St. Louis' own Phyllis Schlafly rail against the dangers of bilingual education, using it as a springboard to attack the National Education Association and its alleged promotion of secular humanism, explict sex ed. and even support of the Equal Rights Amendment, something I thought had been been a dead issue since 1982. For the record, I'm an NEA member, as they provide me with legal representation, representation before an educational establishment often indifferent to the concerns of rank-and-fil teachers, and representation before our own local school administration. I believe that if I were to face unfair criminal charges or lawsuits or an unjust termination, NEA would have my back. Last time I checked, Schlafly's Eagle Forum, based just across the river in Alton, Ill., was not providing these services or any support to embattled teachers, nor was any other conservative organization. So given a choice, I'll cast my lot with NEA.

Schlafly was followed by Tony Perkins, founder of the Family Research Council, one of those organizations that sound good in theory until they open their mouths and speak. Perkins today interviewed Oliver North on his recent vist to Iraq (North says we should stay the course. Shocking, I know). What this had to do with family values, I don't know. What I especially don't understand is the Right's unwavering support and canonization of someone who sold weapons to Iran, probably the most dangerous nation on Earth, then funneled the funds to a band of terrorists in Central America. Not only that, but here's a guy who lied to Congress and whose conviction for doing so was thrown out only by a technicality. What Oliver North has to say about anything means nothing to me.

Finally, before turning off the radio and praying for a some wind or weather pattern that would send KWMU back our way, some guy whose name I didn't bother to catch went on a discourse on the dangers of abortion. To believe this guy who painted a picture from The Jungle, abortionists are butchers who work in unsanitary holes. Come on. I'm sure abortions are by and large safe (for the mothers that is), and universally performed in clean, modern facilities. However you feel about abortion - and it is morally wrong - spreading transparently misleading propaganda and disinformation serves no one's cause. This kind of garbage is exactly why an entire generation of druge users 30 years ago found it so easy to disregard the alarmist and flatly untrue information distributed about drug use. Believe what you want, but at least be honest and truthful.

KSIV is owned by the Bott Radio Network, an Overland Park, Kan.-based chain of Christian radio stations, mostly located in the Midwest. Their website proclaims, "Strengthening your family with God's word - all day, everyday." Oddly absent was God's word anywhere throughout this. Rather than enlightening Christians on how to be better Christians, I heard nothing but partisan political discourse, mainly preaching to the choir about how everyone else in America is the problem, but of course not the listener to these shows. Being a Christian is easy when you're told that everyone else is the problem. Focusing inward, however, is a real and not always pleasant challenge, and one that's strangely absent from broadcasters like KSIV.

The War Chronicles
It's been a bad week for President Bush. Once again, as he's done several times throughout this war in Iraq, he has sought to speak directly to Americans about why this war is important. He did so during the summer of 2005 with a series of speeches. He did so again last year. This time, he says, not only should we continue to follow through on this huge mistake, but now we should escalate with 20,000 more troops. The polls consistently show that two-thirds of Americans see this immodest proposal as "been there, done that." Most of us believe that things aren't working out in Iraq. When one begins wondering if maybe Iraq really was better off under Saddam, you something is very wrong. As a group, however, we're not sure about the alternative. I know I'm still not sure, although I lean toward a pullout.

Yet, the dire predictions rage if we do so. We will set the stage for World War III, as Neville Chamberlain did for World War II. Americans will never be safe at home again. Nobody believes that a pullout will lead a breakout of peace in the Middle East. In fact, probably whatever happens will be really ugly and bad, thanks largely to the further destabilizing effects this war has had on this region. I say "further" because the Middle East has been a mess for at least 40 years; it certainly was long before Sept. 11. It will continue to be a mess regardless of what America does. Terrorism of course will continue to be a threat, but maybe we'll learn to start treating terrorism as a law enforcement and intelligence issue with more precise and limited military involvement - not as something we can "fix" through a conventional war with an unseen and frankly unknown enemy.

I have to seriously question whether a pullout truly will heighten the endanger that we inarguably face. Instead, is it quite possible that our leaving Iraq will result in some de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East? Our presence there is such an incredibly incendiary flashpoint, I can't help but believe that a pullout will cool down the passions of billions of people who will probably still hate us but will be less inclined to actually cross over to the dark side of terrorism. Many of the insurgents and terrorists see themselves as fighting for their homeland against what they believe to be an occupying force of anti-Islamic infidels. When that kind of urgency is removed, people's passions tend to cool.

Nobody is denying that the terrorists are bad people and that the threat against our nation is extreme, although many war supporters would like to use such a characterization against people like me. But is our country any safer by insistently continuing on the same course we've repeatedly learned doesn't work?

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