Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, religion by allisonkilkenny on March 15, 2009

Frank Rich

106548196v30_350x350_frontSOMEDAY we’ll learn the whole story of why George W. Bush brushed off that intelligence briefing of Aug. 6, 2001, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” But surely a big distraction was the major speech he was readying for delivery on Aug. 9, his first prime-time address to the nation. The subject — which Bush hyped as “one of the most profound of our time” — was stem cells. For a presidency in thrall to a thriving religious right (and a presidency incapable of multi-tasking), nothing, not even terrorism, could be more urgent.

When Barack Obama ended the Bush stem-cell policy last week, there were no such overheated theatrics. No oversold prime-time address. No hysteria from politicians, the news media or the public. The family-values dinosaurs that once stalked the earth — Falwell,RobertsonDobson and Reed — are now either dead, retired or disgraced. Their less-famous successors pumped out their pro forma e-mail blasts, but to little avail. The Republican National Committee said nothing whatsoever about Obama’s reversal of Bush stem-cell policy. That’s quite a contrast to 2006, when the party’s wild and crazy (and perhaps transitory) new chairman, Michael Steele, likened embryonic stem-cell research to Nazi medical experiments during his failed Senate campaign.

What has happened between 2001 and 2009 to so radically change the cultural climate? Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown: Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.

Not only was Obama’s stem-cell decree an anticlimactic blip in the news, but so was his earlier reversal of Bush restrictions on the use of federal money by organizations offering abortions overseas. When the administration tardily ends “don’t ask, don’t tell,” you can bet that this action, too, will be greeted by more yawns than howls.

Once again, both the president and the country are following New Deal-era precedent. In the 1920s boom, the reigning moral crusade was Prohibition, and it packed so much political muscle that F.D.R. didn’t oppose it. The Anti-Saloon League was the Moral Majority of its day, the vanguard of a powerful fundamentalist movement that pushed anti-evolution legislation as vehemently as it did its war on booze. (The Scopes “monkey trial” was in 1925.) But the political standing of this crowd crashed along with the stock market. Roosevelt shrewdly came down on the side of “the wets” in his presidential campaign, leaving Hoover to drown with “the dries.”

Much as Obama repealed the Bush restrictions on abortion and stem-cell research shortly after pushing through his stimulus package, so F.D.R. jump-started the repeal of Prohibition by asking Congress to legalize beer and wine just days after his March 1933 inauguration and declaration of a bank holiday. As Michael A. Lerner writes in his fascinating 2007 book “Dry Manhattan,” Roosevelt’s stance reassured many Americans that they would have a president “who not only cared about their economic well-being” but who also understood their desire to be liberated from “the intrusion of the state into their private lives.” Having lost plenty in the Depression, the public did not want to surrender any more freedoms to the noisy minority that had shut down the nation’s saloons.

In our own hard times, the former moral “majority” has been downsized to more of a minority than ever. Polling shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans agree with ending Bush restrictions on stem-cell research (a Washington Post/ABC News survey in January); that 55 percent endorse either gay civil unions or same-sex marriage (Newsweek, December 2008); and that 75 percent believe openly gay Americans should serve in the military (Post/ABC, July 2008). Even the old indecency wars have subsided. When a federal court last year struck down the F.C.C. fine against CBS for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl, few Americans either noticed or cared about the latest twist in what had once been a national cause célèbre.

It’s not hard to see why Eric Cantor, the conservative House firebrand who is vehemently opposed to stem-cell research, was disinclined to linger on the subject when asked about it on CNN last Sunday. He instead accused the White House of acting on stem cells as a ploy to distract from the economy. “Let’s take care of business first,” he said. “People are out of jobs.” (On this, he’s joining us late, but better late than never.)

Even were the public still in the mood for fiery invective about family values, the G.O.P. has long since lost any authority to lead the charge. The current Democratic president and his family are exemplars of precisely the Eisenhower-era squareness — albeit refurbished by feminism — that the Republicans often preached but rarely practiced. Obama actually walks the walk. As the former Bush speechwriter David Frum recently wrote, the new president is an “apparently devoted husband and father” whose worst vice is “an occasional cigarette.”

Frum was contrasting Obama to his own party’s star attraction, Rush Limbaugh, whose “history of drug dependency” and “tangled marital history” make him “a walking stereotype of self-indulgence.” Indeed, the two top candidates for leader of the post-Bush G.O.P, Rush and Newt, have six marriages between them. The party that once declared war on unmarried welfare moms, homosexual “recruiters” and Bill Clinton’s private life has been rebranded by Mark FoleyLarry CraigDavid Vitter and the irrepressible Palins. Even before the economy tanked, Americans had more faith in medical researchers using discarded embryos to battle Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than in Washington politicians making ad hoc medical decisions for Terri Schiavo.

What’s been revealing about watching conservatives debate their fate since their Election Day Waterloo is how, the occasional Frum excepted, so many of them don’t want to confront the obsolescence of culture wars as a political crutch. They’d rather, like Cantor, just change the subject — much as they avoid talking about Bush and avoid reckoning with the doomed demographics of the G.O.P.’s old white male base. To recognize all these failings would be to confront why a once-national party can now be tucked into the Bible Belt.

The religious right is even more in denial than the Republicans. When Obama nominated Kathleen Sebelius, the Roman Catholic Kansas governor who supports abortion rights, as his secretary of health and human services, Tony Perkins, the leader of the Family Research Council, became nearly as apoplectic as the other Tony Perkins playing Norman Bates. “If Republicans won’t take a stand now, when will they?” the godly Perkins thundered online. But Congressional Republicans ignored him, sending out (at most) tepid press releases of complaint, much as they did in response to Obama’s stem-cell order. The two antiabortion Kansas Republicans in the Senate, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both endorsed Sebelius.

Perkins is now praying that economic failure will be a stimulus for his family-values business. “As the economy goes downward,” he has theorized, “I think people are going to be driven to religion.” Wrong again. The latest American Religious Identification Survey, published last week, found that most faiths have lost ground since 1990 and that the fastest-growing religious choice is “None,” up from 8 percent to 15 percent (which makes it larger than all denominations except Roman Catholics and Baptists). Another highly regarded poll, the General Social Survey, had an even more startling finding in its preliminary 2008 data released this month: Twice as many Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in the scientific community as do in organized religion. How the almighty has fallen: organized religion is in a dead heat with banks and financial institutions on the confidence scale.

This, too, is a replay of the Great Depression. “One might have expected that in such a crisis great numbers of these people would have turned to the consolations of and inspirations of religion,” wrote Frederick Lewis Allen in “Since Yesterday,” his history of the 1930s published in 1940. But that did not happen: “The long slow retreat of the churches into less and less significance in the life of the country, and even in the lives of the majority of their members, continued almost unabated.”

The new American faith, Allen wrote, was the “secular religion of social consciousness.” It took the form of campaigns for economic and social justice — as exemplified by the New Deal and those movements that challenged it from both the left and the right. It’s too early in our crisis and too early in the new administration to know whether this decade will so closely replicate the 1930s, but so far Obama has far more moral authority than any religious leader in America with the possible exception of his sometime ally, the Rev. Rick Warren.

History is cyclical, and it would be foolhardy to assume that the culture wars will never return. But after the humiliations of the Scopes trial and the repeal of Prohibition, it did take a good four decades for the religious right to begin its comeback in the 1970s. In our tough times, when any happy news can be counted as a miracle, a 40-year exodus for these ayatollahs can pass for an answer to America’s prayers.

Bobby Jindal Stocks “Marriage Commission” With Anti-Gay Crusaders

Posted in civil rights by allisonkilkenny on January 6, 2009

Bilerico Project

bobby-jindalLouisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is often cited as a rising star in Republican politics. One of the party’s most visible state executives, he has worked hard to endear himself to the GOP faithful, and has been widely mentioned as a possible White House candidate in 2012. And, true to form for some of those who seek to carry the Republican mantle on a national ticket, he is already beginning to pander to the most extreme factions of his party and his state.

In December, Jindal announced the formation of the Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family, billed as “an entity within the executive department that serves to propose programs, policies, incentives and curriculum regarding marriage and family by collecting and analyzing data on the social and personal effects of marriage and child-bearing within the state of Louisiana.”

In other words, Jindal’s Commission is going to be looking at – and making recommendations regarding – marriage and family issues within the state. And a quick look at some of those appointed by the Governor to serve on the panel leaves no doubt that, in the end, the line-up will do nothing more than promote an extreme, anti-gay agenda that sets back, blocks and battles any attempts to recognize or respect Louisiana’s same-sex families.

Among those who have been appointed by Jindal to serve on the Commission are Tony Perkins (who hails from Baton Rouge), the president of the anti-gay advocacy group known as The Family Research Council . . . Gene Mills, executive director of the far-right Louisiana Family Forum . . . Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund . . . and numerous members of the clergy. All, Jindal has said, “have significant academic and/or professional expertise” on issues of marriage and family.

And each has a long history of spouting anti-gay rhetoric, too.

Perkins and Mills, especially, are vociferous anti-gay advocates, and have been the driving forces behind attempts to ban legal protections for same-sex couples. And on his website, Mills promotes publications with titles such asMorally Straight, Protect Your Children, and Three Myths About Homosexuality. All are inflammatory, inaccurate and outrageously biased papers that demean and degrade lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. (The Family Research Council’s list of similarly harmful publications is too long to list in a single blog entry.)

Every family in Louisiana should be alarmed by Jindal’s “Commission.”

Following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, and a successful bid to strip same-sex couples of adoption rights in Arkansas, there is little question that Perkins and Mills, especially, will push for similarly anti-gay measures in Louisiana. By giving the movement to deny lesbian and gay couples adoption rights a facade of credibility via a gubernatorial panel, the two will no doubt use the resulting recommendations to spread inaccurate, unproven and harmful rhetoric about the issue . . . and then push their anti-gay agenda in the legislature, and at the ballot box.

Governor Jindal is setting Louisiana up to be one of the next battlegrounds in the fight for family equality.

Following his decision to roll-back an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination order implemented by his predecessor, the Governor is now taking another, unmistakable step to the right in an attempt to shore up a base he believes he may need down the road.

The truth is that Perkins and Mills are no experts on our families. Their appointment to the Louisiana Commission is a thinly veiled attempt to tip the panel to the far right and begin the process of eroding civil liberties in the Bayou State.

On November 5th, many LGBT families rightly feared that he vote tallies on election day would lead to further attacks on our rights. Jindal has wasted no time in proving that prophecy to be true. By shoring up extremists’ support for a potential White House bid, he has put the safety, and rights, of Louisiana families in jeopardy.

Tell Governor Jindal to put families first and remove anti-gay bigots from his Commission. Call the Governor’s Mansion at (225) 342-0991.