Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Curiouser and Curiouser

Ok, I haven't written anything analytical in a while. It's been mostly posting news articles of interest every now and then with a snarky comment attached at the end. Proud as I am of my snarky comments, I've thought of something to write about.

  • How is the political balance of power in the country defined right now, and how is it shifting?

This is a hell of a question with a hell of a lot of answers, depending on who you ask. The typical religious zealot conservative's answer varies between, "This country's going to hell in a handbasket and we need to reassert our Christian values and take it back," and "We are taking back our country, and the re-election of George W. Bush proves that."

When these arch-conservatives talk about the country going to hell, they're generally talking about the moral decrepitude of our culture, as evidenced by Howard Stern, the Janet Jackson incident, the Monday Night Football teaser, etc. These are people who, when they say they want to take the country back, they literally mean that they want to take the country back--to the 1950s. To days when they couldn't show toilets on television, let alone hints of naked flesh. To days when impolite speech was confined to saying "None of your business" instead of "None of your beeswax." To days when the role models of the generation were clean-cut, and scandals were swept under the rug instead of aired for all to see.

But the 1950s weren't all that they were cracked up to be. Watching TVLand doesn't give you an altogether accurate view of what was going on during that decade of the Korean Conflict (read: War), "separate but equal" facilities, McCarthyism and the Red threat (America's finest hour, according to Ann Coulter), increasing tensions with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and singing, dancing street gangs fighting for control of New York City (Ok, maybe you can get that last one from television).

The fact is, the 1950s were a time of greater moral stricture on the surface, but the undercurrents that lay beneath that veneer were the same as those that are there today. History and popular culture may whitewash it (no racist pun intended), but the 1950s were not what people think they were, in my opinion.

So that's the take of the radical conservatives, as I see it. They want the country to be a God-fearing Christian nation with the moral restraint it had fifty years ago. And there are some good reasons for them to feel that the country is moving in that direction. People are being decried as unpatriotic for questioning the motives of the Administration. There is a growing current wanting to teach "intelligent design" to the youngsters in our schools, alongside evolution. The ongoing FCC brouhaha is making it clear that censorship is tightening its grip on public expression in the country.

But what about the liberals? Do they share the same view? Of course not. They hold that this is not a "Christian nation." It may be populated predominantly by Christians (by birth, not necessarily by practice), but its population does not marry it to a specific religion, and that should be respected. Moreover, the liberals feel that they're the ones taking their country back, and that the grassroots campaigns of the 2004 Democratic primaries prove that.

It's hard to tell, though, where the liberals want to take the country, because it's not somewhere that we've been before. That comes partially to the difference in the actual definitions of the words "liberal" and "conservative." Liberal is forward thinking, while conservative is looking to the past, to conserve the past. Makes sense, I think. And it makes sense that the liberals don't have as clear a plan for the future, because their model for what it should be like hasn't yet happened.

And depending on whom you listen to, the liberals have good reason to think that the country is moving away from the moral stricture and conservative tendencies of the 1950s. For states to have considered gay marriage at all, even if only for most to have banned it, is a monumental step, I think. Minority lines are still there, but they're a bit more blurred, especially with two minority secretaries of state (the second one female) in a row. Regardless of the recent push for more "decency," the boundaries on acceptable expression in public forums have been expanded greatly in the last 50 years.

So what does this all amount to? I think it shows that neither side is winning the decisive victory that they both claim. I think that the divide in the country is much deeper than either side wants to admit (since they both want to claim that they lie in the majority), and that if it keeps up, we're going to move to a place vastly different from either the 1950s police state that liberals fear or the free-for-all hippie paradise that conservatives fear.

Snark snark.