Friday, March 29, 2013

Has the “Christian” moment passed in politics?

“We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.” – “Okie from Muscogee,” 1969 Merle Haggard
These days, The Hag likes to suggest that he and Willie Nelson fired up a jumbo with Hillary Clinton, but back in 1969 they were on opposite ends. Right thinking Oklahomans  – Elizabeth Warren would have been a teenager in the mid 60s and a waitress in Oklahoma City – did not do these things “like the hippies  out in San Francisco do.” But today, I’m not sure the distinction holds  up.
The perceptive Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the NY Times, has written recently of the end of “a Catholic Moment” in public life. A  moment which formed, “At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism,’ which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice.” But that was a “long eight years ago. Since then, the sex abuse scandals that shadowed John Paul’s last years have become the defining story of his successor’s papacy, and the unexpected abdication of Benedict XVI has only confirmed the narrative of a church in disarray. His predecessor was buried amid reverent coverage from secular outlets, but the current pope can expect a send-off marked by sourness and shrugs.”
Douthat could well be correct in thinking that the moment of politiclized Catholicism has passed. But it might be considered that the Catholic “moment” was a reflection of the rising Southern force of Christian politics and the Evangelical movement which historian Dan T. Carter writes of in “The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics.”
There was to it all a sense of “I’m a Christian and you’re not.” Or as one Texsas wag put it in song, “I’m going to heaven. You’re gonna  fry.”
Carter wrote that the entire Wallace rise and fall was a reaction to the new initiatives of the culture of the 1960s, of the Freedom Riders in the South, the integration decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the hippies and so on.
“Journalists might greet this growing counterculture with curiosity, even approval. But Wallace knew – instinctively, intuitively – that tens of millions Americans despised the civil rights agitators, the antiwar demonstrators, the sexual exhibitionists as symbols of a fundamental decline in the traditional cultural compass of God, family, and country.”
Wallace invoked images of a nation in crisis, he says, a country in which thugs roamed the streets with impunity, antiwar demonstrators embraced the hated Communist Vietcong, and brazen youth flaunted their taste for “dirty” books and movies. “And while America disintegrated, cowardly politicians, bureaucrats, and distant federal judges capitulated to these loathsome forces."
But the hippie movement itself may have been a cultural reaction to the rising events  in Vietnam and the threat of the draft. By 1969, I and a half dozen of my friends had already returned from the war in Asia.
But that was now almost 50 years ago. I can barely remember it. And anyone,l hippie, or anti-hippie who still does, is stuck. In the immortal words of Captian Kirk: “Get a life.”
Rand Paul: “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,——I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”

The conservative’s world opened again with Texas-born Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. He will be helped along by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Utah Senator Mike Lee, and could well be overlapped by Cruz. And conservatives today have the great advantage as they have made the generational leap first. This time liberals will be playing catch up and defense as George Wallace's red neck followers did. They look today to Hillary Clinton only because they cannot let go. But it will be an easy shift for Elizabeth Warren (with former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, they would have the rising generation).

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