25 August 2005

The Culture Wars

"The Culture Wars" are a defining elements of political discourse in America today. Cultural conservatives has not had much success in those wars.

Abortion is still legal in the United States and a recent 6-3 ruling of the United States Supreme Court affirmed Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. Even if Roe were struck down, abortion would remain legal in most, indeed, almost all states. Many of the most prominent anti-abortion terrorists are now in prison. The retirement of Justice O'Connor will not change that balance of power. Emergency contraception is available by prescription, and in some states can be obtained from a pharmacist without a prescription. Birth control pill use and condom use is common place. RU-486, an abortion pill, is legally available by prescription. Abstinence only sex education is rare. Most schools offer real sex education that informs students about the risks of STDs and various contraceptive methods. Efforts to ban pornography have generally failed in the face of First Amendment challenges. Efforts to ban books in school and public libraries also usually fail.

Evolution is taught as science in every public school in the nation. Creationism is not taught as science in any public school in the nation and is not even taught as science in more than a handful of private schools. Likewise, the Big Bang theory, radiocarbon dating and plate tectonics, which also contradict the anti-scientific creationism world view are widely taught in schools everywhere.

"No Fault" divorce is the norm in almost every U.S. state. In fact, the areas which are supposedly the heart of the conservative side of the culture wars have the highest divorce rates (and the highest teen pregnancy rates). Women make up a large proportion of medical doctors and lawyers, professions they were almost entirely absent from in 1970. The number of children per woman per lifetime in the United States has plummeted. There are a significant number of women in the military serving in roles including fighter pilots and convoy escorts who frequently engage in firefights with enemy troops. Women have serve as Governors, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries and U.S. Supreme Court Justices, even in a conservative Republican administration.

Even the Jesse Helms of the world who made their political careers on segregation and race baiting now acknowledge that miscegenation laws are wrong and that not discriminating on the basis of race should be the law of the land. Interracial adoption is common. Women have progressed much more rapidly economically since non-discrimination laws have been based than blacks, but that there has been real progress on the front of racial equality in the last fifty years cannot be denied. De jure segregation has ended. A significant black middle class has emerged as a result. Many of the leaders of the white segregationist movement, frail as it was, such as Matthew Hale, are in prison and their organizations have been crippled with civil lawsuits.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that sodomy between consenting adults cannot be criminalized in the Lawrence case. Many states and many large corporations have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Military recruiters and Boy Scout troops have suffered considerably as a result of anti-gay policies. The consensus that one is born gay is growing stronger. The Episcopal Church has ordained a gay bishop. Domestic partnerships equivalent to marriage and even gay marriage, is available in a number of states and countries. AIDs has ended up strengthening, rather than harming the gay rights movement politically.

Public schools do not have school led prayers. New Ten Commandments monuments face legal landmines. The number of Americans who claim "no religion" is at an all time high. The religious diversity of the United States is far greater than it was half a century ago. The military has Muslim and Wiccan chaplains. Extreme statements from televangalists like Pat Robertson and James Dobson are routinely the subject of national scorn.

The effort of cultural conservatives to stop the courts from permitting Terri Shiavo, who had spent years in a vegetative state, not only unanimously failed in the courts, they were also overwhelmingly unpopular with the American public at large. Oregon has an assisted suicide law. Federal reluctance to sponsor stem cell research was countered with an initiative in California that has devoted massive resources towards conducting it, and even Nancy Reagan has joined the pro-stem cell research band wagon.

There is no longer any meaningful alcohol prohibitionist movement in the United States outside of Utah, and perhaps Idaho. No state has exercised its constitutional right to go completely dry. The Supreme Court has struck down out of state specific bans on mail order wine purchases. Nevada still has legalized prostitution. Almost every state has greatly expanded legalized gambling with bingo, lotteries, dog and horse racing, and Indian casinos becoming common place throughout the nation. Nevada has legalized sports betting, poker games are making a national revival, and everyone bets on college basketball, whether or not it is legal.

Many states, such as New York, have greatly toned down their draconian sentences for drug offenses. The federal sentencing guidelines have been thrown out. Several states have abolished state level criminalization of medical marijuana, and Canada has decriminalized possession of small quantities of pot.

Yes, the culture wars are ongoing, and yes, liberals need to be vigilant to prevent them from being won by the conservative side. But, any objective look at the last thirty years or so has to conclude that so far the conservatives have lost this war.

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