Whose America: Ralph Reed’s or Ralph Nader’s, Jesse Helms’s or Jesse Jackson’s?
Sounding a theme that was old even in Newt Gingrich’s sad day, and about which much was written a decade and more ago, former Newsweek and Los Angeles Times political correspondent Shogan examines the “culture war” that obtains between liberals and conservatives, relativists and fundamentalists. Among the conflict’s many victims, he counts Colin Powell, who came under fire by the Christian right because he dared suggest that the sexually active might want to wear condoms, and Al Gore, who, Shogan offers, lost the 2000 presidential race not because of vote-tampering or judicial coup, as other observers have suggested, but because Gore labored in the shadow of the “troublesome cultural profile of Bill Clinton.” That may well be, of course, but Gore still carried the popular vote by half a million, which suggests that Americans have not been unduly troubled by the “cultural tensions” Clinton so ably exacerbated with his endless chasing after the pleasures of the flesh—and perhaps that the culture war is less significant than the author makes it out to be. Shogan works a couple of shaky premises—including his view that, at least ideally, politics and culture occupy separate domains, whereas the reality is that each influences the other at every turn--and seems sometimes to confuse his categories, as when he suggests that Clinton’s call to end welfare was a “cultural theme” and not a political expedient. He then settles, more comfortably, into a well-worn groove, announcing that the culture wars of the 1990s are merely extensions of the culture wars of the 1960s, pitting America-firsters against Yippies, dope-smokers against martini-drinkers, men against women. That’s a safe enough thesis, but one that others, such as David Brooks (Bobos in Paradise, 2000) and David Frum (How We Got Here, 2000), to say nothing of William Bennett, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and Allan Bloom, have addressed far more satisfactorily.
Politics junkies may have fun batting Shogan’s thesis around, but it’s old news.