“‘[T]he hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities,’ especially the women’s studies departments, ‘should all be taken out and shot.'” – Austin Ruse of the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) expressing his violent fantasies on American Family Association talk radio
Where to start with this? I do not share the assessment that most American universities are in the business of promoting “human-hating” or that ‘the hard left’ runs them. There are certainly many who are not Christian fundamentalists and socially liberal in higher education. But the idea of a communist takeover of American universities is insane.
And then there is the obvious: Fantasizing about murdering people you disagree with is clearly not the best way to show your own love of humanity. Take note, Catholic fundamentalists!
New study: political polarization in American presidental elections is indeed fueled by the Culture War
As an interested student of American politics, it almost seems like a truism to me that the culture war is driving the current political polarization in American elections. Social liberals usually vote for Democrats while social conservatives usually vote Republican. Yes, there are of course also libertarians who are economically conservative and socially liberal. But they fall somewhere in between the two camps on the simplified left-right one-axis model of the political spectrum.
The wedge issues are well-known: the separation of church and state and the connected conflicts around abortion and LGBTI rights, regulation of firearms, taxes and how they should be spent (healthcare, social safety net in general), but also civil rights and immigration. Or, to put it bluntly, ‘god, guns, and gays’.
But now there is more empirical evidence for this wide-spread assumption of the culture war’s influence on electoral politics. In a recent study, economist Stefan Krasa and economist/political scientist Mattias Polborn—both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined voter behavior since the late 1970s “by combining a theoretical model of voters’ decisions with data from the American National Election Survey.”
Their research confirms that cultural issues are of greater significance in American politics today than they were back in the late 1970s, when Carter campaigned against Ford in 1976.
[i]n 1976 [. . .], a voter’s social liberalism or conservatism played only a minor role for his vote choice [. . .].
Three decades later, a very different picture would emerge:
In 2004, however, [. . .] social and economic preferences play an approximately equal role in determining the vote [emphasis mine].
Krasa and Polborn are also able to assign a number to the growing importance of cultural issues in American electoral politics. And is it quite staggering:
The cultural policy differences between Democratic and Republican are about 300 percent larger for the elections in the 2000s than they were in 1976. In contrast, economic policy differences in the 2000s increased only by between 15 and 45 percent relative to 1976 [emphasis mine].
Who went from voting Democrat to voting Republican since 1980? The Reagan Democrats—”disproportionately white, low-to medium skilled workers, and considerably more religious than the average.”
Vice versa, those who went from voting GOP to voting Democrat were “disproportionately well-educated, secular and non-white.”
“Party realignment on cultural issues is responsible for increased political polarization in presidential elections.” (Stefan Krasa and Mattias Polborn, USAPP Blog, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2014/03/03)
Fox News insists that Santa Claus and Jesus are/were white
And now to the really important things in the world. As the Christmas season (or holiday season, depending on your personal preference) is approaching, America’s culture wars tend to shift their attention towards certain religious and cultural icons.
It’s the ‘War on Christmas’ all over again
You might remember Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s invention of the ‘War on Christmas’ that is supposedly being waged by ‘the left’ against virtuous, red-blooded Middle America, because, as Bill would like you to believe, American liberals all hate America with a passion and are plotting to destroy all cultural traditions.
Non-white Santa Claus and Jesus versus ‘Murica
Now, Fox News is stirring up the latest controversy: Multiracial Santa Claus and Jesus. The liberals are now coming for white American Santa Claus and white American Jesus, so the story goes. What happened?
AIsha Harris, an author for Slate, suggested that Santa Claus should not be depicted only as a bearded white man, but maybe also as black, to be more inclusive and speak to all kids.
Unsurprisingly, this led to Fox News talking head Megyn Kelly insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus are/were in fact white.
Depictions in popular culture versus history
There are two different aspects to this, naturally. First, the depictions of Santa Claus and Jesus. Both the commercialized Santa Claus, prominently featuring in commercials for Coca-Cola, for example, and Jesus have indeed for a long time been portrayed as white in America (in Europe, there’s the phenomenon of white Santa and Jesus, too).
‘Beyond the pale’: a Greek bishop and a Mediterranean Jew
Second there are the historical figures, assuming for the sake of argument that both existed. As the Raw Story article points out, the historical Jesus was a “Jew of Mediterranean descent.” Santa Claus is based on the Dutch Sinterklaas, who is in turn based on the fourth century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, which was part of Greece at the time and is today part of modern Turkey. Migration aside, the average person from either of those regions does not look exactly like the white Europeans from Western and Northern Europe. The historical Santa Claus and Jesus are ‘beyond the pale’ (pun intended!).
In regards to the looks of the historical Santa Claus and Jesus, Fox News is therefore just wrong on the facts.
Just one more Culture War distraction
In my view, the permanent manufacturing of outrage over alleged assaults on a white (Judeo-)Christian culture in America by liberals is part of a wider strategy of Fox News and NewsCorp to distract their audience from economic policies that are in fact detrimental to many of their white middle class supporters. Even though many views held by individuals on either side of the political spectrum are sincerely held, functionally, the culture war mainly serves to deflect people’s critical attention from economic policies.
Here is the progressive talk show The Young Turks on the matter:
Here is the progressive talk show Majority Report with Sam Seder on the same topic:
Fox News responds to critics with more of the same. Here is the reporting from The Young Turks on how Megyn Kelly portrays herself as a victim of race-baiting.
“Megyn ‘Santa And Jesus Are White’ Kelly A Victim Of Race-Baiting”
[Update, 2013/12/17] Bill O’Reilly, inventor of the ‘War on Christmas’ weighs in
After Fox News’s Megyn Kelly defended white Santa and white Jesus, Bill O’Reilly himself weighed in on the matter [article + video]—by briefly insisting that she is right about white Santa and Jesus and then going off on a tirade about how the liberals hate Fox News because they see it as racist conservative propaganda machine.
Having at this point watched many typical clips from the network, I think that is for the most part an accurate description of Fox News. And Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the usual suspects working under Roger Ailes know exactly how to play to the emotions and irrational fears of white conservative America.
Watch another entertaining clip from the progressive talk show The Young Turks on the matter:
“O’Reilly Defends White Santa & War On Christmas Continues”
Rapesploitation in American Politics
Among the many loathsome things that humans are capable of inflicting upon each other, rape is way up there. That, however, does not stop some politicians from exploiting the issue while demonstrating a complete lack of empathy for rape victims, most of whom are women. In the US, the ultra-conservative wing of the ever more conservative Republican Party has infamously been filling that niche for some time now.
Rape comments were common in the past election season
Throughout the past election season, several GOP politicians have stirred up controversy with insensitive, misogynistic comments about rape. Typical commentary contained elements such as downplaying rape, or arguing for (and proposing bills designed to) limiting women’s access to abortion in the context of rape.
Predictably, remarks of that sort have created a public relations disaster for conservative politicians, as huge chunks of women voters tend not to like being lectured by old men on what constitutes rape and how they should feel and act about it.
Shut up, those pesky TV cameras are pointed at you!
So what is the solution to all that horrible bad press? Well, one anti-abortion group has decided that it is workshops for conservative politicians teaching how to keep their beliefs on rape but tone down the rhetoric just a notch while speaking in public so that nobody will notice. According to that logic, ‘rape culture’ and the underlying desire to control women’s bodies is not the problem, but the public figuring out some politicians’ extreme positions is.
I am not so sure that women in the US will buy into this. Say what you will about people’s short attention spans. On the Internet, all those comments are still accessible. And if the past election season has shown anything, it is that the wackier politicians can’t help themselves but say outrageous things all the time.
“GOP looks for ways to stop the rape comments.” (Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico, 2013/01/11)
“The real Republican rape platform.” (Jill Filipovic, Guardian, 2012/10/25)
“The Republican Rape Advisory Chart.” (Bruce Wilson, Alternet, 2012/10/24)
More comments about women by prominent GOP figures:
“[Conservative talk radio host] Rush Limbaugh: ‘You Know How to Stop Abortion? Require That Each One Occur With a Gun’” (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, 2013/01/17) – In essence, this highly influential talk radio host says that women who seek an abortion should be killed.
This Tuesday [March 27, 2012] I attended a talk on “The Upcoming U.S. Presidential Elections and U.S. Foreign Policy” by Dr. John C. Hulsman, who is a Senior Research Fellow at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS). The talk was held at the Bibliotheca Albertina, the main university library in Leipzig, and presented by the AmCham Forum of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany.
Hulsman, who described himself as a left-leaning Republican, has worked for a number of think tanks, among them the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the German Council on Foreign Relations.
In his talk, Hulsman argued that five issues were crucial to current developments in US foreign policy:
- the decline of the US economy
- the decline of the European economies
- the Arab Spring
- rising powers such as India and China
- the question of an Iranian nuclear program
Elections and Political Views in the US
Concerning the elections, Hulsman said that polls show that more more Americans consider themselves conservatives [He was probably talking about this Gallup poll].
Independent Voters in the US
Presidential elections in the US, Hulsman mentioned, are won by courting independent voters, who are neither attached to Democrats or Republicans.
These independents are disaffected and are most concerned about the economy.
In 2008, independents were largely for Barack Obama. Before the crash of investment bank Lehman Brothers, however, John McCain was ahead of Obama in the polls with independents.
In 2010, independents swung back to Republicans, mainly because of opposition to the Obama administration’s health care reform bill.
To independents, Hulsman explained, the health care reform was another ‘entitlement,’ which they dislike, and they felt that their main concern—the economy—was neglected.
[Here is a Pew poll from April 2012 on general election preferences.]
Economic Troubles Illustrated
To illustrate the severity of economic troubles in the US, Hulsman gave these examples:
One third of Americans have no retirement savings. When the Social Security system was initiated, life expectancy was much lower than today. During the 1990s, many who owned real estate, such as a house, felt this was securing their retirement.
One fourth of all homes in the US are now ‘underwater,’ meaning that homeowners owe the bank more in mortgage than the house is worth on the market. The house thus loses saving potential and becomes a drag for the owner. Hulsman said that the Hayekian idea (after classical liberal Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek) would have been to just leave the keys and get out of the house.
One fifth of all savings were wiped out during the financial crash that started in late 2007. Hulsman stressed that in a federal system such as that of the US, it is important to examine the respective figures for state and local levels to get the full scope of the financial crisis’ impact.
If the US economy would not grow by eight per cent, it would not be able to cushion these problems.
Anger at Washington and the Labor Market
Hulsman explained that part of the general dissatisfaction of voters with the Washington establishment is the great disparity of experiences in the labor market.
Jobs within the Washington political class are generally very secure, and it is hard to get fired. On the other hand, regular employees and workers get fired very easily in the US, compared to Germany.
The economic difficulties of the US, Huntsman noted, might produce a spillover effect with ramifications for foreign policy, due to constraints on the federal budget. The high costs of war and nation-building [see below] come under closer scrutiny in this climate.
The Republican Primaries in Early 2012
In January 2012, Mitt Romney was twenty points ahead with independents in the polls.
This time, more Republican primaries allocate their delegates proportionally.
By doing so, they adopt the Democratic system of primaries, wherein two candidates fight for the nomination.
Splitting the Republican Vote with Culture Wars
A problem for Republicans in their relationship with independent voters is their focus on ‘culture war’ issues such as abortion, contraception, and the separation of church and state. For instance, Rick Santorum has put the issues of contraception and state-church separation front and center in his campaign. This does not fit well with independents, who worry most about the economy.
Romney, Hulsman noted, does not like to talk about social issues. He is simultaneously forced to move to the right o social issues in order to appease conservatives, while trying to avoid alienating independents.
Hulsman bets his money on Romney becoming the Republican nominee in the end.
Obama’s campaign narrative to counter Romney will be that he stopped the ‘Great Depression.’
Partisan Differences in Foreign Policy
How would Republicans and Democrats differ on foreign policy?
Hulsman said that Republicans are always to the right of Obama and the Democrats, for instance on the issue of Israel.
Current Challenges in US Foreign Policy
Dealing with a Multipolar World
An ongoing general challenge for the US is how to deal with the new multipolar world, exemplified by the rise of countries such as Brazil, India, China, South Africa, or Malaysia.
The European financial crisis the tensions with Iran are examples of issues that the US cannot control alone. This is a new situation for the US and makes the Obama administration nervous.
The Arab Spring
Hulsman was skeptical about the long-term success of the Arab Spring, saying that he viewed it in Burkeian terms. History shows, he said, that the most well-organized groups prevail in revolutions. In Egypt, this would be the Muslim Brotherhood and the army. While Hulsman was optimistic about the situation in Tunesia, he had a very bleak outlook about developments in Syria.
Obama’s foreign policy style, Hulsman held, is basically one that focuses on limiting losses.
Iran, the US, and Israel
Hulsman noted that the US government realizes its own security interest does not equal Israeli security interest, even if both are close allies.
To illustrate this point, Hulsman explained that the US and Israel have different red lines in considering military action against Iran.
For Israel, an Iranian capability to build a nuclear weapon would be a reason to attack. For the US, the actual possession of nuclear weapons would be that flashpoint.
In addition, several former Mossad chiefs have publicly argued against attacking Iran.
In the US, public opinion is such that 75% strongly support Israel, but also do not want a unilateral strike. In Israel, the number concerning a unilateral strike is similar.
If Iran would at some point in the future have a nuclear weapon, nuclear proliferation would spread throughout the Middle East, especially the gulf states.
A bombing of Iran would have terrible results, according to Hulsman. If Israel attacked Iran unilaterally, that would perhaps set back the Iranian nuclear program for a year. But the high price to pay would be that hope for peace in the Middle East would be gone for a generation. Already now, an Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz has caused a spike in oil prices.
Currently, Washington talks to Tel Aviv to convince the Israelis to get more time to let the sanctions on Iran work.
Hulsman told the audience to behold the coming September, because the chance of a military strike at this time would be fifty-fifty.
Concerning Afghanistan, Hulsman, who is opposed to neoconservatives, held that it was a case of failed nation building, with a cost of $ 1 million per soldier per year. He said that failed nation builders always claim they need more time and money.
The US, the EU, and Global Influence
On the US as a global ordering power via the EU, Hulsman said that if the EU wants to play a greater role, it needs to spend more on defense. He said that the US cross-subsidizes European defense, while European nations spend very few on defense, and more on their social systems.
Here is a video from the US Embassy in Germany featuring John C. Hulsman talking about the 2012 elections: