The Economist argues:
Today it is all culture war, all the time, but not in the way anyone envisioned there. It’s not the issues that define culture war now; it’s culture war that defines the issues. As Newt Gingrich spoke today at a rally in suburban Atlanta, supporters held up signs with a gas pump, and “$2.50/Newt” on it, a reference to Mr Gingrich’s promise to reduce the price of gas to that level under his administration. And why are gas prices so high now? Because Mr Obama’s “secretary of anti-energy”, as Mr Gingrich called Steven Chu, wants us to pay European prices. Why? Well, it has something to do with Mr Obama bowing to Saudi kings and apologising for soldiers who burned Korans and “following a foreign policy trapped in various international interests and biases.” Mr Gingrich’s support of vigorous drilling for oil and gas was met with rousing cheers. And who knows: perhaps we ought to allow more drilling for oil and gas. Perhaps it really is worth the environmental costs.
But that’s not really what the audience was cheering for, nor was it what Mr Gingrich was really talking about. Support for oil and gas exploration is American, period. Opposing it is European. Just like the argument over Obamacare is not really a debate over how to ensure that as many Americans as possible have access to affordable and at least adequate health care. Obamacare is “European socialism”; opposing it is American. Anything less than a full-throated war against Iran is appeasement, as is negotiating with the Taliban; never mind how America will pay for a war with Iran, or what its consequences will be, or whether Mr Gingrich’s stated goal of leaving Afghanistan and leaving it safe could be furthered by finding some common ground with the Taliban. Outside America it is Europe in 1939; in Washington it’s Haight-Asbury in 1968. To quibble over policy is to side with the enemy.
While I agree with the sentiments and I don’t think everything (or anything for that matter), the president does is “unAmerican” or an assault on the American culture, the Economist acts like this is a new strategy. It’s called a narrative and a grand strategy. Every presidential candidate has one. It’s a way to make the American public understand understand complex policy debates and put them into five second sound bites. Tying culture to policy ideas has been apart of the American political lexicon for generations.
To take recent history, remember “Restoring Integrity to the White House,” basically George W. Bush’s strategy that he would never get a certain “job” in the Oval Office or be part of a culture that ruins the moral fabric of America. Jimmy Carter promised that he “Would Not Lie to You,” portraying himself as not one of the crooked Nixon-Washington insiders that got involved in such activities as “ratfucking” elections (look it up). During the Bush years, Democrats were insistent on taking down the Republican agenda of Christianizing the entire world through the Neocon nation building strategy and anti-science public policies. The list can go on for pages.
In fact, culture wars appear to be what we as a nation do best. Is it dangerous to draw your political foe as the anti-Christ who stands against everything you despise in life? Probably. Certainly, it does not help advance the conversation in any way or end our current polarization. But “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” because both sides revel in it and it’s not going away anytime soon.