Right Wing Inside
insidious story of how abortion and sexuality came to dominate
so much of our nation’s politics is familiar to any student
of the 20th century: In order to woo first the Catholics and
then religious racial minorities away from their traditional
commitment to voting based on left-leaning economic and moral
values—pro-union, pro-minimum wage, pro global justice and
fair trade, concerned about poverty, etc.—the right wing began
to harp on the small handful of areas that divided this constituency
from the more liberal part of the democratic party—abortion,
gays, sex ed, prayer in schools, euthanasia. But mostly abortion
In a nutshell: It worked. We all know what it looked like
and what was done on the economic and civil rights front while
this distraction was running.
Until this last election, when the economy had gotten so bad
it came back to trump other concerns. Or so it seemed.
I’ve seen a couple of pieces talking about the death of the
religious right, or at least of its era in power. I’m glad
to hear it. But I also wonder.
One of the reasons that botulism is so dangerous is that what
kills you is a toxin secreted by the bacteria—so even if you
kill off the bacteria in contaminated food, the food will
still kill you.
As I watch waves of reaction to the new administration echo
around the Internet, I have to wonder if the religious right
hasn’t left behind its toxic priorities even as it weakens.
What do I mean?
I don’t mean that reproductive freedom and gay rights
are not very important.
I do mean that I saw approximately 500 times the outrage and
activism around the choice of Rick Warren for inauguration
preacher—a role that had no actual effect on policy—than I
have over our government bailing out banks with no transparency
and no accountability.
Keith Olbermann’s emotional gay marriage “special comment”
(yes, I cried at it too) seemed to get a lot more attention,
at least in my circles, than Jon Stewart’s utterly brilliant
destruction of Jim Cramer as the representative of mealy-mouthed
financial “journalists” and the crooked system they are apologists
for. And Cramer and CNBC, as real financial journalist
Mary Kane has pointed out, are merely the tip of the iceberg,
the easy pickings.
I’ve seen so much more creative and activist energy poured
into a state-level constitutional challenge to an admittedly
awful ballot referendum or a showdown about domestic partner
benefits than I’ve seen go into keeping the administration
we elected with such high progressive hopes from leading us
down a path that looks destined to save the asses of financial
executives but not really change the rules or learn any lessons
from how we got here. We managed to get worked up over some
AIG bonuses, but not about the underlying problem: We’re bailing
out irresponsible banks (including all of AIG’s trading partners,
quietly, through AIG), and expecting nothing in return—all
gain to the speculators, all risk to the taxpayers! (Doug
Henwood, bless him, calls this being a “pro-bullshit investor.”)
Without more spine than that, all of us regular folk—gay and
straight, married and unmarried—are headed quickly up a certain
creek without a paddle.
But it’s so much easier to fight those other fights. Many
of the reasons these wedge issues worked so well for the right
aren’t dependent on what side you take: Specifically, they
are fairly easy to understand, with well-defined positions
staked out. People from the same cultural niches rarely disagree
with their buddies on what should be done. And, let me repeat,
they are genuinely important.
In the case of gay marriage, I think it’s also nice to feel
like you’re fighting on the side that’s going to win in the
Advocates for economic justice, sustainable economic recovery,
and neighborhoods still being destroyed by foreclosures can’t
say that so much right now. Their cause is so much harder
to sum up. Even right here in this column, as a decided non-expert,
I don’t know how to summarize a month’s worth of reading about
fiscal policy to be as compelling as any call for family equality
I’ve made before.
I haven’t given up on Obama. There’s plenty being done right.
Even when it comes to Wall Street and bailouts and the financial
system, I think Obama wants to be responsive. Thing is, the
people who feel confident talking to him about the financial
system are mostly the same numnucks who got us into this mess;
unfortunately, some of them got put into key administration
positions. Most of the economic activists I know aren’t touching
these debates, focusing instead on (crucial) budget fights
or health care, not treasury policy.
But I think someone has to figure out—quickly—how to summarize
and communicate what ought to happen on/to Wall Street and
rally us behind it. I’m looking at you, MoveOn, TrueMajority,
Democracy for America, People for the American Way. Think
big, or we won’t have another term during which to enjoy arguing
the details of everything else.