Culture Wars

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Culture Wars

“We would go so far as to suggest that the “something” about Kenneth Starr that so rubbed many opinion-makers the wrong way was the clear understanding that he was not just prosecuting Bill Clinton; he was prosecuting the entire culture that gave to what Bill Clinton represents.”

– from the Wall Street Journal Friday, September 11, 1998

A clearer statement and understanding of the stakes of all of this I have never read.

“…prosecuting the entire culture…” Indeed.

And how is that culture characterized?

“…the voices of an American and European culture that since the 1960s has been undergoing a relentless moral transformation, a transformation that before certain recent economic difficulties was engendering talk of an ‘Asian Century.'”

Are they talking about the Democrats they claim would sell us out to the Chinese? Or are they talking about the general ‘Pacific Shift’ that has been effecting world economies since the early sixties – economies that they themselves have been wildly plundering through lending and speculation in the past several decades – economies that made these same speculators lead us into a disastrous war that broke our society right down the middle? Are they talking about the forces which threaten to make the good ol’ U.S.A. something less than the biggest player on the block? Or are they talking about the threat of heathen Eastern religions infecting all of those damn hippies and West Coast liberals and Hollywood types?

“Under this new rubric, the verities that guided the generation that fought World War II were deemed inappropriate for the social forces that got up and running during the 60s.”

Ahhhh… now we cut to the chase. The battle between two generations. One who fought the most horrible war in the century and tried to protect its kids from the defiling truth by hiding all of the lies and filth beneath the rug. The other growing up feeling betrayed by the racism and greed and bigotry which they saw thriving beneath the televised facade of a country they’d grown up trusting whether “right or wrong!”

It’s the 60s that are the problem. Where one generation challenged the monstrous hypocrisy of its elders while the elders reacted in blind hatred and rage at being threatened and questioned. A generation sent to fight a war of greed in which the wealth of its’ elders was held to be more important than the lives of anyone standing in the way.

“In place of earlier ideas about right and wrong behavior came the strong belief that the particularities of any one person’s circumstances left any moral judgment troublesome.”

By this is meant the whole postmodern thing. A view that our standards of behavior and perception are largely determined by environment, genetics, class, upbringing, point of view. Could it be that the graven-in-stone values of the wealthy white elites are not the pure and perfect standard of all moral judgment? Could it be that values are at base very simple and fundamental…”Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”…and that rules about common behavior are flexible and negotiable? Could it be that in the face of arrogance and genocidal greed the sins of sex and drugs and rock and roll look pale?

“And so eventually most people, including the churches, simply stopped judging. Anything goes, so everything went.”

No. We didn’t stop judging. We have watched while the corporations and their religious lackeys have taken over the political process. We have watched while armies were trained to kill the poor in the third world so that the speculators could have their oil. We have watched while the environment was poisoned to dangerous levels to threaten our children. We have watched while drugs were sold in the ghettoes to purchase arms for armies of murderers and thugs. We have watched dictators propped up because they would do business on our terms while those who choose their own way are starved. We have watched and we have judged.

The President lied. He had lots of sex with a 20 year old and he lied to everybody about it. He’ll probably go down for it. Maybe he should.

It is important however that we remember where all of this investigation has come from and what it has served. The right wing has succeeded in doing what it set out to do from the beginning…to make Bill and Hillary into political monsters. The venomous hatred directed by these people toward the “entire culture” the President represents goes back way before anyone heard of Monica Lewinsky – even before Whitewater (which has all but vanished). I would say that it goes back even before the 60s – all the way to the managed economies of the New Deal and the threat of revolution arising out of the ashes of World War I and later the Great Depression.

In the end we’ll never go back to the days before the New Deal, when the capitalists were allowed to run totally rampant and roughshod across the world. The world has gotten too small and the limits are looming too large. Who’s gonna be drafted to fight their wars? The prosecutors have been given more power than ever before. Prisons are one of our biggest growth industries. By the end of all the current mess maybe we’ll have a Newt Gingrich or a Pat Buchanan or John Forbes as our leader – then you bettah watch yo’ ass if’n you ain’t wealthy and white. In the long run there are too many factors for anyone to control. If the generation of the 60s had their moral compass so totally skewed in an age of television, how much more will the generations be skewed by the Internet?

There is both bad news and good news in the Culture Wars. On the one hand the Republicans have successfully toppled a president. On the other hand, they had to do it by public prosecutor since they couldn’t do it in the realm of electoral politics. A party that prays every election for a low voter turn-out is a party with feet of clay. The party of rich white men is essentially drawn up in a very tight circle, and the ocean is getting higher and more violent all around. The disgust felt by people toward both parties is channeling more and more energy into organized alternatives like the Greens. The real question is how much damage these dinosaurs can do before they are swallowed by the future.

Ralph Melcher is a freelance editor and essayist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.