04 September 2008

(Sort of) Embracing a Culture War

From the very funny, but regrettably Obama-enraptured John Hodgman:

FORGET ISSUES, if those elitist "community organizers" win, they're going to tax our babies!

(Yes, he always uses capitals like that in a sort of semi-ironic, I-know-this-isn't-kosher-on-the-Internet-but-I-wish-I-was- typesetting-this-for-a-19th-Century-broadsheet way.)

Agreed, 99% of the accusations of "elitism" totally miss the mark. I could completely do without that cropping up in my political debates. Charges of elitism are usually leveled at either those that embrace a (sometimes genuine though often affected) specific sort of refined cosmopolitan taste, or those with money.* Neither group is actually coincident with the elite. People need to stop using it as a generic dirty word and find other, more precisely defined criticisms to make. I'm sure there are plenty.

I guess I shouldn't hope people flying into a tizzy about elitism are about to go away since this has been going on for a while. I have a hazy memory of a story about Reagan taking some reporters horseback riding at his ranch. As he emerged, attired for a morning of riding, one of his aides forced him to go back into the house and change into blue jeans and cowboy boots. The jodhpurs he always rode in, and had dressed in that day, were going to look elitist. The press was expecting a cowboy ready to ride the fences, not someone in [sneer] European-style breeches.

Now, this is not related to Hodgman's post in particular, but it's one of about 70 examples I've seen in the last 24 hours of people decrying "culture war." I am sick and tired of people throwing that phrase around willy nilly. Does it have some legitimate meaning? Sure. But 99% of the time it's used by people whenever discussion of culture enters the political debate.

Culture is the result of a shared outlook on life and the world, and that outlook in turn is the result of something approaching a governing philosophy. That political battle lines are drawn over culture should be expected since culture is just a short hand way of arguing about the paradigms we use to interpret the world. Deism, Hobbesianism, Capitalism, Humanism, Evangelicalism and all the other -isms coalesce into our culture, and they are all worthy topics of political struggle. If that undercurrent of world view (combined with the sometimes regrettable specifics of our electoral system) happens to draw people into two discrete camps who define themselves as much by who they aren't as who they are, then so be it.

Granted, debate should rarely focus on the more purely aesthetic manifestations of culture, but culture itself is foundational. Mr Hodgman wants us to "focus on the issues," but more often than not issues can not be separated from culture.

As far as the culture war goes, I don't need people claiming that they represent the "real America." And I'm not interested in hearing about the Starbucks crowd versus the Dunkin' Donuts crowd. I don't really care what my politicians tastes are in hot, caffeinated beverages because the way they like their coffee doesn't say anything about them. But I also do not think it prudent to remove people's eating and drinking habits from discussion entirely. Joining the locavore movement says a lot about the value one places on the environment and what one know about economics, as well as how rational one is and whether one is more swayed by emotional or scientific arguments. (Ditto people's consumption of cloned meat and their opinions about biotech.) That's a piece of culture that I'm perfectly willing to include in the culture war. Generally I don't care what kind of pants my politicians wear, or cars they drive, or beer they drink. But if they only buy Wrangler jeans, drive Fords, and (formerly) drank Budweiser because they wanted to buy American, then I know a lot about where they stand on nationalism and free trade and probably immigration as well.

As the the content of Mr Hodgman's post in particular I have two comments.
  1. Excessive deficit spending and our current Ponzi-esque entitlement programs are taxes on babies. (Well, they are guarantees of future taxes on those who are currently babies, not actually "baby taxes," but close enough.) Both parties seem to support this to an alarming degree.

  2. Community organizer is a bullshit job, no matter how many reverse scare quotes he uses. It's essentially municipal-level reverse-lobbying, in which you try to maneuver a couple dozen neighborhood leaders into supporting your cause instead of working on one whale. Community organizers and lobbyists are just power-politic hustlers trying to leverage other people into doing things for them.

* And by the way, the modern Right's very own contemporary Cato, William F Buckley, fell into both categories. You won't see any Republican conventioneers decrying National Review for its elitism.

1 comment:

  1. The jodhpurs he always rode in, and had dressed in that day, were going to look elitist.

    I can't say for certain - it's been far too long - but I am reasonably certain that the when Reagan rode a horse aboard Camp David he wore jodhpurs.

    I am certain that a picture I used to own of me, Reagan and ten other Marines had Reagan dressed in a light green turtle neck and tan jodhpurs. He was probably fresh back from the stable - but while I would have known that then, I no longer do. I do recall with pretty good clarity that he tried to make a bad joke about real Marines and a guy who played a cavalry soldier in the movies. It didn't work and he sort of trailed off, then took the group photo can went into Aspen.

    Reagan (a year or two before he left office) struck me as being with-it but .. an old guy. Like grampa who is still pretty sharp and could probably still tell you how to assemble a wizzbang inside a framfurter (just like they did at the plant, in '70 before the place went to heck) but who needs a nap in the afternoon or he'll nod off over the soup.