Shaken To My Core
by Chris Bowers, Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 08:46:56 PM EST
Read on only if you have the courage. Be warned--it is not pretty.
Now, I must confess: My own view is that Jesus would probably not vote at all, given the organized corruption that passes for modern American politics. But the idea that Christ Himself might sit out the 2004 election was apparently not under consideration, so I accepted the invitation--much to the pastor's avowed surprise. As an active Baptist who grew up in the Baptist church, I had no illusions that most of my co-religionists were ardent Democrats, but I rarely turned down any chance to make the case for my own candidacy and that of my fellow party members. After all, wasn't Daniel blessed for braving the lion's den?
As I arrived at the church, my wife and I were given the church bulletin, which outlined the weekly selection of hymns and Bible readings. On the back of the bulletin, atop the blank space reserved for copious note-taking during the sermon, was the heading: "WWJV? PRO-LIFE OR PRO-DEATH?" (I favored the partial-birth abortion ban but opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.) In the sanctuary, a 20-by-20-foot depiction of a fetus looked down upon the assembled throng from a projection screen. Superimposed upon the unsettling image--which morphed to show the fetus in various stages of gestation--was fact after fact about abortions in America.
After the morning rituals, the pastor called me to the stage, and we engaged in a lengthy discussion about abortion, homosexuality, "liberal judges," and other controversial matters. After leaving the stage, I rejoined the congregation, and the pastor launched into an attack on the "pro-choice terrorists," who were, to his mind, far more dangerous than Al Qaeda. Yes, he acknowledged, thousands had died on September 11, but abortion was killing millions and millions. This was a holocaust, he continued, and we must all vote righteously. Vote righteously! In 13 months of campaigning across the vast state of Oklahoma, I must have seen or heard this phrase a thousand times, often on the marquees of churches, where, outside of election season, one finds only clever and uplifting biblical bromides. But it was not until that September Sunday in Sallisaw, one of the most Democratic towns in Oklahoma, that I first understood that the seemingly innocuous phrase "vote righteously" was the slogan not of a few politicized churches, but the cri de coeur of millions--millions who fervently believe that their most deeply held values are under assault and who further see this assault as at least tolerated by the Democratic Party, if not actually led by it.
As a defeated Senate candidate in the most red of red states, many people have asked me for insights into the Democratic Party's failure to connect with culturally conservative voters. Much has already been written on this topic, and scholars will add more. But I do know this: The culture war is real, and it is a conflict not merely about some particular policy or legislative item, but about modernity itself. Banning gay marriage or abortion would not be sufficient to heal the cultural gulf that exists in this nation. The culture war is about matters more fundamental still: whether nationality is, in a globalized world, a random fact of no more significance than what hospital one was born in or whether it is the source of identity and even political legitimacy; whether one's self is a matter of choice or whether it is predetermined, before birth, by the cultural membership of one's family; whether an individual is just that--a free-floating atom--or whether the individual is part of a long chain that both predates and continues long after any particular person; whether concepts like honor and shame, which seem so quaint, are still relevant in a world that values only "tolerance." These are questions not for politicians but for philosophers, and, in the end, it is the failure of liberal philosophy that we saw on November 2.
For the vast majority of Oklahomans--and, I would suspect, voters in other red states--these transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage or preserving farm subsidies. Pace Thomas Frank, the voters aren't deluded or uneducated. They simply reject the notion that material concerns are more real than spiritual or cultural ones. The political left has always had a hard time understanding this, preferring to believe that the masses are enthralled by a "false consciousness" or Fox News or whatever today's excuse might be. But the truth is quite simple: Most voters in a state like Oklahoma--and I venture to say most other Southern and Midwestern states--reject the general direction of American culture and celebrate the political party that promises to reform or revise it.
That is what Antonin Scalia famously called the Kulturkampf. And there can be no doubt either that this is a fundamental dynamic in American politics or on which side of this conflict the electorate rests. Last Tuesday, I ran 7 percent ahead of John Kerry, and my opponent ran a full 13 percent behind President Bush. In most states, this would have been more than sufficient to ensure my victory. But not in Oklahoma. At least not last Tuesday. And, while the defeat was all my own, the failure was of the party to which I swear allegiance, which uncritically embraces a modernity that so many others reject.I first read this one hour ago, but I am still stunned, and shaken. Over at dailykos,. I wrote some pretty inflammatory comments about the "red state rejection of modernity," that Carson describes: That is not our failure. That is our success. Quite frankly, if Carson is right, then the people he is talking with can go fuck themselves. I am not rejecting modernity. If they are, then we call them on it, and make that our war. The last thing we need to do is reject modernity in order to win votes. I not only draw the line there, I draw it way before that. I'll become a violent insurgent in my own country before I let us slink into the confederacy, the ancien regime, or something even more primordial. Quite literally, over my dead body. That was my first thought. My latest ones are not much better. My parents are coming into town tomorrow for the first time in over a year. Combining this article with their impending visit has led to some real introspection about where I am from, how I was raised, how it relates to the people described in Carson's article, and even to my first encounter with the Christian right. Being from New York, even Upstate New York, I think I am from one of the few areas in the country where someone would have to go to college to finally meet real conservatives. White evangelicals only make up 5% of the state's population. Now in Philadelphia, I live in a ward that voted over 95% for Kerry.
The difference is so gaping that I admit I an unable to understand it. I'll have a lot more on this tomorrow.