On how Obama may have ended the culture wars
Date: Tue Jan  5 10:47:32 2010
From: Jesus Ortega
To: Sam Moreno
Subject: E.J. Dionne Jr.: "Church and State: How Barack Obama ended the culture wars -for now" (The New Republic)

On Mon, Jan 04, 2010 at 12:46:00PM -0600, Sam Moreno wrote:
> Yeah, I think he's correct. Right now the battle is on the role of
> government. Dick Armey's quote is the salient one if you are a political
> tactician.  And you know how Americans are when it comes to government.
> It's going to be a tough mid-term election for Democrats.

The discussion with Jeff Cech started when he pointed out that he failed to
see the difference between the current position taken by the Republicans and
the "culture wars".  Basically, he thinks they're just continuing the same
"culture wars" by other means.  

I sort of understand what he means (the tactics being employed are about the
same: positions are distorted, views are exaggerated, the country's future
is always at stake, liberals are betraying America...), but do agree with
the overall assessment of E.J. Dionne Jr., in the sense that the debate is
far more "political" now.  As you say, it now centers over the role of
government, which is a legitimate debate to be had.  In other words, it has
moved away from personal ethics and social mores.  It has moved away from
imposing my own moral views on others, at least for the time being.  

Now, the issue is whether this apparent move from the "culture wars" towards
a more consciously political debate is a temporary truce due to the economic
crisis and health care reform or, on the contrary, signals a deeper change
in American politics.  Although the Republicans continue making as much
noise as before and also continue using the same "betrayal to America"
speech as before (and I think that's what Jeff is truly trying to convey), I
think the fact is that Obama has so far managed to set the political agenda
during this, his first years of Presidency.  As a consequence of this, the
debate over homosexuality, abortion and the like are gone, and they have
been replaced with the debates over health care, economic policies and the
overall role of government.  The issue, of course, is to know whether Obama
will be able to continue setting the agenda in the future or, on the other
hand, the Republicans will be able to upset his plans, like they did with
Clinton back in the 1990s.  I'd say the whole thing depends on whether or
not health care reform passes.  If it does, he will come out of the whole
experience in a position of power that will allow him to continue setting
the agenda.  If it doesn't, the Clinton health care fiasco will be here
again, allowing the Republicans to take the lead and set the agenda.  So
far, it looks as if the former may happen.  It's quite unlikely now that
health care reform totally fails as it did under Clinton, I'd say. 

Finally, you have the mid-term elections, as you point out.  Yes,  the 
Democrats can be severely punished.  That's yet another chance for the
Republicans to start setting the agenda.  

In conclusion, if either health care reform fails or the Republicans
overwhelm (mind you, not just win, but overwhelm) in the mid-term elections,
Obama's position to continue setting the agenda will be seriously diminished
and we will most likely see a return to the old "culture wars".  On the
other hand, if Obama continues in control of the situation, I'd say there is
a good chance he could change the overall climate in American politics for
the better.

> The other interesting note was the increasing influence of progressive
> Christians (of which I number among them). Will we end up like our
> conservative brethren? I hope not but I'm seeing some worrying signs. At
> our best we can be a counter balancing force against conservative
> Christianity. However, it can go too far. 

In what sense?  True, as E.J. Dionne Jr. points out, they may have 
"mobilized to a degree not seen since the civil rights years", but I don't 
think their agenda so far has been so divisive.  And neither have they used
an intolerant discourse either.  

The problem I see with the positions traditionally held by the Christian
conservatives over most issues is that, as far as I can see, they run smack
against the American tradition, in spite of their highly patriotic
discourse.  Let me give you a couple of examples.  If same-sex marriage is 
legalized, nobody forces me or my family to practice it.  It spreads
freedom, in the sense that people (gay and lesbians) who couldn't do
something before can now do it, while it doesn't curtail the freedom of
everyone else (heterosexuals).  That's precisely the American tradition, I'd
say.  The same applies to the debate about the presence of religious symbols
in political institutions (not to be confused with "public life").  You are
free to believe and I am free not to.  However, from the moment we allow
prayer at schools, those who don't believe will feel pressured to do so.
For the same reason, we shouldn't allow a public display of atheism in which
the whole class is expected to take part, even if we allow individual
students to "opt out" in front of everybody else.  It curtails their

Jesus Ortega Segura