End Times in the Culture Wars

Yes, it’s tiresome – but those of us who left for college in the fall of 1965 and graduated four years later – back when college was a four-year affair – really were at the center of the most important shift in American culture, ever. It was an open revolt against almost everything – just after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed, finally ending the crap black folks had endured since the end of the civil war, it became obvious that war was not the answer to anything, and that war in Vietnam became the issue. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were posited as the answer to everything – but not really. Everything from the fifties had to go – there’d be no more of that Ozzie and Harriet nonsense. The whole concept of the family was in question – communes were where it was at. Western religion had to go too – there was Zen and there was always some swami in India that George Harrison or someone had said knew what was what in the universe. The incense and sitar music were a bit irritating, but it sure beat the soporific Presbyterian service down the street each Sunday morning. Heck, it was time to change everything, and all of that peaked in 1968 – the year that changed everything – and ended with Woodstock, and Richard Nixon as president, and the Beatles splitting up. But it never really ended.

The culture wars of the sixties are still being fought. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is in play again, with the Supreme Court this June saying that old thing might have been a good idea, at the time, but now it’s just quaint, and has to go – so from North Carolina to Texas to Florida, now, a whole lot of minority folks, and the young, are going to find it damned hard to ever vote again. It’s like old times. Rand Paul keeps saying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was stupid too – people should do the right thing on their own. The government really had no business telling anyone how to run their business in the first place – so presumably he’d be okay with segregated lunch counters coming back. He’d be sad if that happened, but it’s a free country, or ought to be. Thus the culture wars, started back then, rage on. The social conservatives, those born-again evangelicals, talk endlessly about family values, and about women being modest and all that, and rail against abortion and even birth control. Rick Santorum leads the pack there, ably supported by Rush Limbaugh, gleefully sneering at those sluts who pop birth control pills like candy. None of that was really settled in the sixties.

The only thing that was settled was the music. Everyone loves the Beatles now. They’ve become safe. Even the Rolling Stones became safe. The oldies stations pump out what was once subversive and even pasty-white NRA Republicans in their late sixties smile and tap their feet. The music from those times really was mighty fine, so everyone has coopted it. They’ve made it their own, which no doubt irritates the counterculture folks who were manning the barricades at the time, but there’s also a dirty little secret they are reluctant to admit – a lot of that stuff was pure dreck.

Think back – think of Barry McGuire almost singing that pretentious Eve of Destruction thing. Life is awful and things are spinning out of control and we’re all doomed, because no one listens to youth in revolt or some such thing. It was self-indulgent crap, badly produced, and a number-one hit, and embarrassing. Barry McGuire later became a born-again Christian and for many years refused to perform the song, having realized he had been on the wrong side of the culture wars. That’s fine – his choice – but maybe he also realized it was never much of a song in the first place. It’s no more than one more odd and quite minor historical artifact from way back when, from the start of America’s long and endless culture war.

The odd thing is that it’s come up again, because that culture war might be coming to an end. In fact, in Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei title their article on the current Republican mess Eve of Destruction:

It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be. Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it.

This is even worse than the day Romney lost the election, for these reasons:

The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.

The few Republicans who stood up and tried to move the party ahead were swatted into submission: Speaker John Boehner on fiscal matters and Sen. Marco Rubio on immigration are the poster boys for this.

Republicans are all flirting with a fall that could see influential party voices threatening to default on the debt or shut down the government – and therefore ending all hopes of proving they are not insane when it comes to governance.

Yes, life is awful and things are spinning out of control and we’re all doomed, because no one’s listening to the young or something like that:

These Republicans came into the year exceptionally hopeful the party would finally wise up and put immigration and irresponsible rhetoric and governing behind them. Instead, Republicans dug a deeper hole. This probably doesn’t matter for 2014, because off-year elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where older whites show up in disproportionate numbers. But elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak – unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast.

The blown opportunities and self-inflected wounds are adding up…

Allen and VandeHei go on to document those self-inflected wounds, but everyone has done that. Everyone knows the mess they’re in, and now there’s this:

Just when they seemed to have the situation under control, Republican leaders are facing the wrath of conservatives who are furious that the heads of the party aren’t interested in risking a government shutdown over Obamacare this fall.

Conservative anxieties over the Affordable Care Act are reaching a boil as the law’s major provisions are set to take effect in the coming months. And an all-out grassroots mobilization during the month-long August recess by wealthy right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and Heritage Action appears to be having an impact. Republican lawmakers have said their constituents are demanding they hold the line.

“I’m hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt,” said veteran Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), according to The Hill. Burgess, who has influence within his caucus on health policy, said the support for the defunding push was “virtually unanimous.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund, a tea party group founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, planned to launch a statewide campaign targeting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is up for re-election next year, and aimed at making him “feel the heat” over Obamacare. The Kentuckian recently observed that a government shutdown “won’t stop Obamacare.”

It won’t stop a thing, and somehow that doesn’t matter:

Republican leaders have sought to pull their members back from the brink and impress upon them that the strategy is doomed to fail, and that not even a government shutdown would stop funding for vast chunks of Obamacare that aren’t subject to the annual appropriations process. And they’re correct: in order to actually postpone or weaken the core elements of law, President Obama would have to sign legislation that was passed by both chambers of Congress. Neither he nor Democrats have any intention of letting that happen. To persuade them to let the shutdown hostage go, senior Republicans have floated the idea of instead taking the debt ceiling hostage and threatening to let the country default if Democrats don’t agree to demands like unwinding Obamacare and dollar-for-dollar spending cuts.

But they’re facing a world of hurt from the conservative base.

A shutdown is all that they hear in their August town hall meetings, so the eve of destruction is at hand:

All of this makes it harder for Republicans to avoid a shutdown without compromising their standing among the conservative base. If nothing else, it raises the bar on the sorts of demands they’ll have to make, and the brinkmanship they’ll have to engage in, when it comes time to raise the country’s borrowing limit later this fall. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has already made unrealistically high promises to his members regarding the fiscal battles and the added pressure of the shutdown threat complicates his already tenuous strategy.

“Republican Leaders will fund Obamacare. They will cave,” wrote RedState editor and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson. “They will have lied to you about their opposition. And in reality they will be conceding they give up the fight. They just hope you are distracted. … Stay focused. Show up and confront your Congressman. Tell him if he votes to fund Obamacare, he cannot really say he is fighting against it.”

And expending their political capital on averting needless crises significantly harms the prospects of House GOP leaders marshaling immigration reform through the chamber, a project their conservative base is pushing hard to scuttle.

This leads Andrew Sullivan to conclude these folks are staring into the abyss:

I think there are two dominant public impressions of the GOP and neither of them is good. The first is that the party is not shifting to the center after a historic drubbing in the popular vote for the presidency, House and Senate last fall. In many ways, the GOP seems even less willing to compromise with Obama or the Democrats after the election than before it. A GOP-precipitated debt-ceiling crisis like 2011’s – with devastating consequences for the economy – would cement this narrative in ways that would be hard to overcome for a long time. At some point, the public will want the Congress to be able to legislate something as simple as sustaining the country’s credit rating – and if it doesn’t happen, the blame will almost certainly fall on those whose loudest voices are crying for conflict. So-called establishment Republicans know this. But the energy and power in the party belongs to the radicals – especially reliable primary voters – and they want, and have been encouraged to expect, a massive showdown to bring the federal government back to its pre-FDR size.

Those radicals are busy alienating, as the Politico piece highlights, critical Hispanic voters by threatening to kill comprehensive immigration reform in its Senate crib, many moderate women by their amped-up obsession with anti-abortion measures in the states, African-Americans by bald-faced and tone-deaf voter suppression efforts, and gays and their families by opposing every single civil right we seek – from marriage equality to protection from workplace discrimination.

That’s only half of it:

The second impression is related to this. It is that the GOP is hopelessly fractured and divided and rudderless – as well as extremist.

Listening to the tone of Chris Christie’s recent remarks [previously discussed in detail here] – and his dismissive contempt for everyone in the GOP but him – shows how far the Republicans have strayed from the 11th Commandment of the Gipper. They hear Christie insisting that he “will do anything I can to win.” Then they hear one of the most influential of the new crazies, Mark Levin, say: “I will do everything I can to make sure Christie is not the nominee”, and the impression they get is of a party in open conflict with itself.

In just the last week, we have heard Newt Gingrich say that the Republican healthcare alternatives to Obamacare are non-existent…

It seems no one is in charge:

The differences between Rand Paul and Chris Christie on foreign policy are as deep as have ever existed in a single national party, as resurgent libertarianism meets a neocon establishment that hasn’t even begun to rethink its own worldview after the catastrophes of Iraq and Afghanistan and torture. And there is no unifying figure or viable establishment honcho to guide the party through these very choppy waters. The last president or vice-president would usually exert that kind of influence, but George W. Bush is a name that cannot be uttered (for good reasons) and Dick Cheney, far from being a calming figure, has become even more unhinged and unreconstructed in his extremism. And so Boehner sums up this bewildered moment on the right: a leader who cannot even control his own Congressional party – he cannot even pass its own budget – and appears as an entirely passive observer of spiraling narratives which he cannot control.

It also seems no one is paying attention:

The right will keep telling itself that it can win power by going even further to the right and that a majority of Americans would prefer them in power to Obama, if push came to shove. They have shown that they can talk themselves into anything – even an imminent Romney landslide as late as election night! But that is part of the problem too. They have a media-industrial complex that has a vested interest in pandering to conservative paranoia and extremism, rather than moderating it. Putting Limbaugh and Hannity on the primary debates panel would simply increase the epistemic closure.

Something will have to give this fall.

Putting Limbaugh and Hannity on the primary debates panel? They are working on that:

In a highly anticipated move, the Republican National Committee voted unanimously on Friday to deny NBC and CNN the rights to host or sponsor a Republican primary debate unless those two networks cancel their respective Hillary Clinton film projects.

“CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus told the committee members in Boston.

While NBC and CNN’s competitors stand to benefit from the RNC’s decision, there’s another potential winner who has gone unmentioned: Univision.

On Friday, RNC communications director Sean Spicer told POLITICO that the boycott would extend to NBC and CNN’s Spanish-language channels: Telemundo and CNN Español.

“My understanding is that they both would be excluded,” Spicer wrote in an email.

That won’t sit well with those they want to win over:

The Republicans did not hold formal debates with any of the three Spanish-language channels in 2012, though they did hold a “presidential forum” with Univision.

But more importantly, all CNN debates were broadcast to America’s Spanish-speaking population on CNN Español. Without that channel, the RNC will need to find another avenue to reach Latino voters.

So what? And it’s not just about Hillary Clinton:

Priebus and many of his friends on the 168-member governing body of the Republican Party have long been open about their desire to have more of a say over agendas, formats and moderators.

“There are practical, feasible ways for the RNC to control the debate schedule,” said Jim Bopp of Indiana, a former chairman of the party’s committee on debates and now special counsel to the RNC. “The debates should be viewed as a job interview, not an opportunity to score political points. The problem is that liberals in the media simply have a different agenda than the Republican Party does in terms of selecting its nominee. They’re not sympathetic to the candidates.”

Speculation that conservative radio talking heads like Mark Levin, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh could moderate debates has ensured positive coverage of the new push on their programs.

Rush is down with that:

“Put together your own debates with your own moderators, whoever you want, and focus on real Republican issues in these debates rather than whether they’re going to do a Hillary Clinton miniseries or not,” Limbaugh said on his show last week. “In this current modern age, there’s no reason anymore to treat these mainstream media people as mainstream objective and non-aligned reporters.”

Without offering evidence, he speculated that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos coordinated with the Obama campaign to ask Romney about contraception during a primary debate so they could create “the war on women” narrative.

“Wherever you go outside of Fox, you are going up against the Democrat Party with people disguised as journalists,” said Limbaugh. “Why do it?”

The blogger BooMan understands why Limbaugh said that:

It’s because anything outside of The Bubble feels unfamiliar and unsafe. People don’t nod in agreement when you say crazy, unsubstantiated things. They don’t swallow misleading or inaccurate statistics. They push back against demonstrable lies. They have a different, more accurate version of history. Sometimes, this makes you look dishonest, or even stupid.

Who wants to look dishonest and stupid? Who wants to feel dishonest and stupid?

Everything inside The Bubble is protected, padded, safe, and soft. Unlike Democrats, Republican lawmakers don’t have to worry about some Rachel Maddow figure querying them about drone strikes, the NSA, the treatment of Bradley Manning, or the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Adversarial journalism is almost non-existent inside the Bubble, except to enforce adherence to Borg orthodoxy.

Once you step outside of The Bubble, you are going up against the uninitiated. These are people who haven’t marinated their brains in Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories or the sly lies of Charles Krauthammer. They don’t understand what you’re talking about or why you could possibly think what you’re saying is true. Once you go outside of Fox, as Rush says, you are going up against the enemy. They are Democrats disguised as journalists because they don’t accept your version of reality.

Meanwhile, at National Review, John Fund defends the notion of taking back the GOP debates and Kevin Drum says he’s fine with that:

As a blogger, I would really look forward to making the GOP clown show even more clownish. I know that hardly seems possible, but think about it. “Governor Jindal, do you think Christian churches should merely be free of all government interference, or do you think that state governments should require the adoption of Christian curricula in our schools?” “Representative Ryan, do you think global warming is a myth, or do you think it’s actually a sinister plot by the scientific community to destroy the economy?” Bring it on!

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog fully agrees:

Stop laboring to give the Republicans the opportunity to put on a presentable face to the larger public – when they do that, they’re deceiving us about their true nature. They’re crazy. We need to see that. We should encourage them to let their freak flag fly.

Fine, but there’s still the problem of cutting out those two Spanish-language networks, although Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall did note that Reince Priebus tried to control the damage there:

As you may have heard, Business Insider (we and others picked it up from them) reported that RNC Chair Reince Priebus had called Romney’s ‘self-deportation’ “horrific” and “racist.” It turned out that he actually said not “racist” but “it hurts us.” And everyone corrected. But at first, the RNC actually confirmed that Priebus had said “racist.”

These things happen, of course. But I can’t help but thinking that there’s some element in this that signals the rudderlessness or perhaps the multiple rudders operating within the GOP at the moment. As in, the communications folks may not know from one day to the next which GOP is coming down the pike. If someone asks for confirmation that Priebus said, “No Justice No Peace” or “Justice for Trayvon” … I mean, who knows, maybe he did?

Who knows? But he sort of did call his party’s last candidate a stone-cold racist, and got this reaction:

A senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign on Friday panned a unanimous vote by the Republican National Committee to bar NBC and CNN from hosting 2016 GOP presidential debates.

“Bad optics for the RNC to block CNN and NBC from sponsoring presidential debates. Attacking the media is a loser’s game,” Eric Fehrnstrom said on Twitter.

Take THAT!

This is not going well, and there’s that refrain from that old Barry McGuire hit:

And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Believe it. Barry McGuire should have never stopped performing that song. Someone should be singing it to the Republicans now. Maybe the sixties are finally ending.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to End Times in the Culture Wars

  1. Rick says:

    I’m a bit ashamed to admit it but I have no recollection of that song “Eve of Destruction” at all, and don’t know how it goes. I guess 1965 was another one of those years that I just wasn’t really paying attention to all the silliness that was swirling around me.

    But, hey, I think I just realized what’s behind the GOP wanting to keep NBC and CNN (and maybe especially their spanish-language affiliates) out of their debate business! The Republicans were so embarrassed last election by the all their debates, reckoning that maybe those clown-shows ended up hurting them in the end, this time they might want to keep coverage to a minimum — especially in the Latino community, where more exposure only reminds those people how the Republicans have been treating them over the years.

    But what I find remarkable is how far we’ve come from the days of the League of Women Voters running debates. Back then, it was unthinkable that a party would refuse to submit itself to the rules of objective, non-partisan outsiders. But in today’s world, Rush Limbaugh can suggest how inadvisable it is for Republicans to venture out into the non-conservative world, and nobody bats an eye.

    I always wondered if people living back in the Dark Ages knew they were living in dark times. I guess now I know they probably never even realized it.


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