More "Culture War" Bombast On The Way

You may be tired of hearing about a "culture war," but such talk is just getting started. On the media battlefield, righteous warriors are lining up to fight the infidels in the first big political conflict of the 21st century.With the 2000 presidential campaign beckoning, some conservative crusaders see a new chance to sweep aside ambiguities and clearly divide friend from foe. "Culture war" could be an effective slogan, especially if the goal is to escalate arguments that can gain media attention while polarizing American society.News outlets -- especially TV networks -- often welcome a simplistic fight. The real world is filled with contradictions and dilemmas that don't fit very well between commercials. Why explore the complexities of issues by including dozens of perspectives when it's easy to feature a dramatic clash between "both sides"?Among the rhetorical gunslingers with fondness for cultural shootouts, none is quicker on the propaganda draw than Patrick Buchanan. Despite all his denunciations of news media, Buchanan has found them to be quite hospitable to his bombast. That's why he's in a strong position to squirt lighter-fluid on smoldering social tensions.During work stints in the White House, serving the Nixon and Reagan administrations, Buchanan sharpened his media-manipulation skills. He went on to become the first political pundit to appear on national television every day of the week.Although he has never held elective office, Buchanan ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 1992 and again in 1996. Now he has begun yet another leave of absence from his job as co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" program so he can jump into his third presidential campaign.It has become traditional for Buchanan's sparring partner to give him a cordial send-off when he leaves "Crossfire" to seek the presidency. In mid-February 1995, his "from the left" co- host at the time, Michael Kinsley, helped Buchanan to hold up a sign that gave his campaign's 800-number.The on-camera moment was symbolic: While Buchanan and his allies are fierce partisans for right-wing causes, their network-designated "opponents" are wishy-washy liberals who rarely put up a fight for progressive positions.A few weeks ago, in his syndicated column, Buchanan proclaimed that "in the culture, the left and its Woodstock values have triumphed." According to Buchanan, whose heroes include such dictators as Gen. Francisco Franco of Spain and Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile, "an anti-Western counterculture has completed its long march through America's institutions, capturing the arts, entertainment, the public schools and colleges, the media and even many churches."Fine-tuning his battle cries for the 2000 campaign, Buchanan is now saying that American culture is a disaster -- and political action is the only way that conservatives can hope to rescue the country. "Politics is the last contested battlefield of our culture war," he declares, "for only through politics can the new cult, a militant and intolerant secularist faith that will abide no other, impose its values on us."Read back over that last sentence, substituting the word "religious" for "secularist," and Buchanan is aptly describing his own approach.Actually, war is a misleading metaphor for cultural conflicts in the United States. Often, demagogues are trying to make hay out of diversity that we should affirm rather than deplore. Even when people are at odds over social policies, there are more than two or three alternatives available. Genuine dialogue usually helps, though it frequently seems to be in short supply.But conservatives aren't the only ones who find "culture war" imagery useful. Liberals often enjoy doing battle with theocratic conservatives like Buchanan and Gary Bauer, the former head of the Family Research Council who is running for next year's Republican presidential nomination. While the Buchanans and Bauers wage holy war, cheered on by true believers, Democratic strategists seem to be pleased -- mindful that such right-wing blather repels most Americans.Odious bigotry is involved in the "culture war" rhetoric of Pat Buchanan and his ilk, who disparage many people -- including millions of immigrants, blacks, Latinos, independent women, gays and lesbians -- for failing to measure up to some arbitrary yardstick of Godliness.But no one should be smug about the status quo. After all, we live in a culture dominated by huge media institutions that give top priority to profits while undermining more precious values. If we can overcome efforts to find scapegoats, maybe we can proceed to challenge the centralized economic forces that are doing great damage to this society's cultural environment.Norman Solomon's new book "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media" will be published in early spring by Common Courage Press.


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