Four years ago, I wanted John Kerry to pick John McCain as his running mate. He was an impressive politician to me then, willing to buck a then-über powerful Republican Party from the inside. He joined with a Democrat to push for campaign finance reform, and he seemed to reject the culture wars the GOP had waged for years. He was personally anti-abortion, but he didn't see the need to divide the American people over what is ultimately a very personal and painful decision in order to get easy votes.
Back then, McCain wasn't trying to fan the culture wars and make Americans hate Americans to further his own political career. I may not have agreed with all his views, but his willingness to reject such nasty, divisive games was refreshing.
That was then.
Until recent weeks, the culture wars seemed to have receded in the U.S. During a time when most Americans are scared about the price of gas, the cost of sending their kids to college, the increasing ferocity of hurricanes, the nation's out-of-control debt and whether their son or daughter will return alive from Iraq, the culture wars of the past have just become irrelevant to most of our lives.
And we're tired of being asked to hate others who don't believe as we do.
Most Americans would rather see us all work together to reduce unwanted pregnancy than to force unwanted children into families who can't afford to feed them. Most Americans know and love at least one homosexual couple, even if they ultimately think their actions are immoral or a sin. Most Americans are too busy worrying about their own families to be concerned about whether another family is "living in sin." And many, if not most, Americans are beginning to follow the lead of Christian leaders like Rick and Kay Warren when it comes to solving AIDS, choosing to love the sinner as the Bible tells them to.
Thankfully, in 2008, most Americans are beginning to see that the environment is not just an issue for "tree-huggers" and "liberals"; the creation-care movement is bringing green attitudes to huge religious complexes and little churches alike. Not to mention, everyone except the willfully uninformed now know that human activity is feeding global warming, which is wreaking havoc on our planetincluding increasing the ugliness of hurricanes hitting our own precious Gulf Coast.
It is not a time for nonsensical and hateful culture wars of the past; under-30 Americans, in fact, are looking at their parents' political shenanigans and yelling: "What were you thinking?" Many soldiers are giving money to the candidate they believe will bring them home from Iraq and take the fight to the real terrorists, regardless of anyone's views on same-sex marriage.
Or, as Barack Obama said so elegantly in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention about our soldiers, who are of all political parties: "They have not served a Red America or a Blue America, they have served the United States of America."
But desperate politicians will stoop to desperate measures. The day after Obama uttered those words, which appeal to so many Americans tired of being pitted against each other and having immoral politicians try to legislate the morality of others, McCain threw his now-legendary "Hail Mary." He wasn't winning as a post-Culture War Republican or as the bipartisan maverick of the past. So the same week that his party's stalwartsthe loudest among remaining culture warriorswrote a party platform that sounded straight out of the 1950s, he appointed a vice presidential candidate who yields a pretty sword and, in one fell announcement, relaunched the culture wars in America.
Now, suddenly, a man who earned the "maverick" label by bucking his party's status quo is trying to embrace it and use it as a big stick to divide Americans enough so that he might have a chance in November. Yes, he got his "game-changer," and the implications are dark and disturbingor can be if we don't stay on top of his game and do our homework to get beyond lies and sound bites.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is a moralizer among moralizers. But in that way that finally turned off Americans to Bush's so-called "compassionate conservatism" (an Orwellian phrase that was anything but), Palin wants to do whatever she wants and bash others for doing the same thing. She wants a "choice" for her and her daughter, but not other American women. Under her policiesor a Supreme Court she or McCain could packeven victims of rape and incest could not get an abortion (a stand that 90 percent of America opposes). She is proudly part of a stealth-named group, Feminists for Life, which isn't even fond of the old-fashioned rhythm method as birth control, much less the pill or the IUD. She wants young people to have no access to birth control or sex education, pushing for abstinence-only moralizing, even though it failed miserably with her own daughter.
Even as Palin talks about reforming corruption and waste out of government, she was one of the biggest earmark queens in the country for her home state (and lied about saying no to Congress for the "Bridge to Nowhere"). And the Washington Post revealed this week that she billed her state over $60,000 for her and her family's "per diem" travel and stay for 312 nights in her own home during the 19 months she's been in office.
Palin and her husband were also supportive of (or a member of, depending on whom you ask and when) an extreme-right anti-U.S. government organization in Alaska that makes most Republicans look left of center, and racist southern strategy look like affirmative action. (See Ronni Mott's story, page 10.)
Regardless of whether McCain knew just how deep into the darkness Palin's associations and beliefs go, he clearly chose her to be "red meat" for his "base," as pundits like to call religious conservatives in Americamost of whom come nowhere near the "paleoconservative" she has courted. McCain has shed his maverick habits to play to the worst instincts of faithful Americans who believe in doing the right thingand he gives Americans no credit by assuming that you want to bring old-style division back into the White House. Not to mention a heartbeat away from appointing three Supreme Court justices.
Re-igniting the Culture Wars does not put country first. We must reject them and be the best that we can be as a nation. Not the worst, as McCain and Palin seem to think we are.