Still Lots of Right-Wing Mayhem to Go Around

The right seems to have decided that the
culture war, like just about everything else, sells better if promoted
by attractive youthful spokesmoms. Goodbye Pat Buchanan, hello Sarah
Palin -- and an especially big shout-out to that bright-eyed smiling
newcomer to the national hate sweeps, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Bachmann, as you may know, has become a YouTube star, thanks to her
interview on "Hardball," in which, talking to an incredulous Chris
Matthews, she called for the news media to ferret out "anti-American"
members of Congress.

The stronger Obama gets, the more unhinged the Republicans become --
at least, those Republicans who haven't already detached (Chris
Buckley! Colin Powell! Charles Krauthammer! Peggy Noonan! Kenneth
Adelman!) -- although to be fair, Bachmann has been sending bulletins
from Outer Wingnuttia for quite a while. In August she mocked Nancy
Pelosi for "global warming fanaticism ... She has said that she's just
trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that over 2,000
years ago." Bachmann also claimed that Democrats want high gas prices
in order to force Americans to move to "the inner city." Watch out,
Real America, Democrats want to turn you into blacks.

Many are worried about the way the McCain campaign has revved up the
culture war -- Bill Ayers is more famous right now than Obama's earlier
BFF Paris Hilton, to say nothing of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, ACORN aka
perpetrator of "one of the greatest frauds in voter history," secret
Muslims, socialism, exotic Hawaii, Joe the Plumber, small towns, the
real Virginia and the pro-America parts of the country. (According to
McCain, if Obama had only agreed to do 10 town hall debates with him,
none of this mud would be slung now. It's as if he's blaming Obama for
his own decision to take the low road. You leave me no choice, sir, but
to lie and slander in a most ridiculous fashion! So much for
Republicans standing for self-reliance and responsibility.) Sometimes
it does feel like McCain, by choosing Palin, has revealed the national
id in all its unregenerate glory, seething with racism, paranoia,
McCarthyism, xenophobia and bigotry.

Yet this is the country where every poll suggests these appeals to
the devils of our nature aren't working their mojo. It may have taken
the collapse of the global financial system to get Americans to elect a
black man president, but give the voters a little credit: It could just

Not too much credit, though. The culture war may fail at the top of
the ticket, but it still has enough juice to do damage further down.
This year's state ballot initiatives offer numerous opportunities for
social conservatives to damage women's health and human rights:
Californians can vote to require parental notification on abortion, a
measure they've rejected twice but which looks likely to pass this time
around. South Dakotans can vote to ban abortion entirely, with narrowly
tailored exceptions for rape, incest and serious injury to the woman's
health -- just make sure you report being raped by your brother
immediately and that your doctor is prepared to risk 10 years in prison
if his colleagues think he's erred on the side of keeping you alive.
For the true fetal fan, though, Colorado is the place to be: There
voters can choose to declare that human personhood, with all its legal
protections, begins with the fertilized egg, putting at risk not only
legal abortion but also emergency contraception, the pill, chemotherapy
and other medically necessary procedures, to say nothing of in vitro
fertilization (protecting fertilized eggs, it turns out, is more
important even than creating a born child).

The old standby, banning gay marriage, is on the ballot in
California, Arizona and Florida, even as in October Connecticut became
the third state whose Supreme Court ruled that same-sexers had a right
to wed. With 27 states already having added marriage bans to their
constitutions, the day will soon be upon us when every state with
enough homophobes to pass a ban will have done so. What will social
conservatives do then? Some 35 percent of Americans support gay
marriage, and that number is on the rise. After all, young people are
much more tolerant of homosexuality than their elders. And if you leave
aside biblical fulminations and lies (like, legalizing same-sex
marriage will force schools to teach kindergartners about anal sex),
the arguments against gay marriage are pretty feeble. I almost felt
sorry for family values think-tanker David Blankenhorn, who argued in a
recent Los Angeles Times op-ed that gay marriage is wrong because the
universal purpose of marriage throughout history has been to give
children two parents, one of each sex. Where to begin? Single
parenting, donor sperm and eggs, blended families, the millions of
marriages among people who can't, won't or don't procreate but who
imagine their marriages are as valid as that of, say, the superfertile
Sarah and Todd Palin. Oh, and the mounting evidence that children
raised by same-sex couples turn out just fine. There are days
Blankenhorn, who describes himself as a "liberal Democrat," must feel
he earns every dime of the many millions his Institute for American
Values gets from Bradley, Scaife and other right-wing groups.

On the plus side, Californians can vote for Prop 2, which improves
conditions for factory-farm animals, and Prop 5, which would provide
almost a half-billion dollars for drug treatment programs. In general,
though, progressives and feminists have been slow to use ballot
initiatives to forward our causes. One big opportunity is coming up in
Milwaukee, where a coalition of activists have placed an initiative on
the ballot that would give workers nine paid sick days a year. Number
legally mandated now? Zero. Workers risk losing their jobs if they stay
out because of illness or to care for a sick child or parent. This
callous policy hits women hardest, but it's bad for everyone. Could the
Milwaukee measure spark a national grassroots movement? Show them some
love by donating at

Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation; This article appeared in the Nov. 10, 2008, issue.

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