Saturday, January 10, 2009

Time to stop fighting the un-Civil War

Hi everyone,

Saturday's column:

Culture warriors need neo-Reconstruction

The upcoming presidential inauguration is an opportunity to bring Americans back together. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen more than a bit of neo-conservative media covering the so-called “war on Christmas.” In fact, on Oct. 6, neo-con state Sen. Glenn Grothman gave a public address “It’s time to get off the bench and into the cultural battle.” With the advent and hope of a new, post-partisan, political culture we need to move past the “war on Christmas,” and all the other divisive culture wars, and back toward that more perfect union, an America that works for everyone.

Yet, like Civil War re-enactors, these culture warriors stay employed by marching around in eye-catching uniforms and firing weapons that create an exciting spectacle – even though they’re only shooting blanks. They keep fighting battles long since lost, reviving hopes long since rendered obsolete. Here’s what I mean.

When I was a university student one of the fraternities held an annual ball at which members dressed up as Confederate officers. It was charming, and culturally interesting, and I understood why boys whose great-great-grandfathers died during the Civil War would want to pay their respects by getting smashed on whopatooli punch and waving swords, but the Old South also embodied toxic ideas superseded by the inevitable Union victory.

Those boys never liked to be reminded that the Civil War ended in 1865. Today’s culture warriors don’t like to be reminded that the socalled war on Christmas ended in 1791 when the First Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing that the government could no more subsidize Christmas then it could Ramadan or Wiccan equinox dances.

Christmas is only one example of a mock battle fought for distraction. Abortion is another one.

Abortion is still protected under Roe v. Wade. Even if the Supreme Court reverses itself, a significant majority of Americans believe abortions should remain safe, legal and rare – and will vote that way. We can keep fighting this battle, but it would be better if we get to work preventing the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion in the first place.

The unplanned pregnancy rate among American teenagers is twice as high as Canada’s and five times higher than the rate in France. We need to do something about this now, not wait for a Supreme Court decision the ballot box will overturn. We can only do something by working together to find common ground.

The culture warrior’s favorite target, of course, is taxation. Taxation, in their playbill, is always cast as the wicked carpetbagger. The children all shout “boo!” but the adults in the crowd know that Ben Franklin was right. Taxes are inevitable. The question is not whether there should be taxes, but whether our taxes are being wasted. Nobody in their right mind wants the government that wastes money.

The late U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, a liberal Democrat in the best tradition of Wisconsin progressivism, was famous for rooting out waste with his “Golden Fleece Awards.” Conservatives and liberals alike are responsible for building Bridges To Nowhere. Fighting about whether there ought to be taxes is simply another way to divide us and keep us from moving forward. State Rep. Pat Strachota’s call to make the state budget transparent by putting it online is a step in the right direction – a step that did not depend on her political ideology, but on her good sense.

The Union prevailed in the Civil War and it can prevail in these un-civil “culture” wars as well. So, let’s put down the Enfield rifles and cavalry sabers and get to work reclaiming our government. The story of America, our story, is the story of a people struggling toward a more perfect union – not away from it.

In a post-partisan Wisconsin we must work together rather than fire off our muzzle loaders over anything that makes us different. Every one of us wants tax reforms, educational reforms, and smarter ways to make the state attractive to the next generation of businesses – regardless of which side of the fence we say we’re on during an election.

As Americans, we will never agree about everything, but divided by labels and side issues we won’t get much done. Setting aside differences to find common ground is just common sense.

That’s the message of this new president, but it’s a message as old as the Republic: the struggle for a more perfect Union. E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. Let’s get to work.

I'm going to give them a couple of weeks after the Inauguration and then it's, sigh, back to Gettysburg.



John Foust said...

B&K couldn't resist.

Mpeterson said...

Ha! Nice one John.

But y'all are going to have to stop confusing me -- a green-eyed socialist -- with liberalism.

... or anyway, Owen is. :^D


Anonymous said...

That Boots & Kittens site is a real hoot! You sure nailed it, John Foust.

Mpeterson said...

and some resistance from the community in a letter to the editor:

Who’s the un-civil warrior?

In his Jan. 10 column, “Time to stop fighting the un-Civil War,” Mark Peterson wrote, “... we must work together rather than fire off our muzzle loaders over anything that makes us different.” He also wrote, “... but divided by labels and side issues we won’t get much done.”
Well, it is curious then, in the same article he articulated: “I’ve seen more than a bit of neo-conservative media covering the so-called ‘war on Christmas.’” And he wrote “neo-con state Sen. Glenn Grothman ... .”
So Mark, it is evidently acceptable for you to use name calling and extreme labels as long as everyone else does not?
Would it be useful for someone to use the term radical liberal (as opposite of neo-con) in promoting unity within the context of your article? So we all can get along and put aside our differences as long as we all agree with you? I find that to be a strange philosophy. Culture warriors? Please. The symbols of Christmas are internationally accepted as something positive. If we are going to put aside our differences to find common ground, shouldn’t you go along with something that over 90 percent of our fellow citizens already agree on? I think that is a philosophy we all can agree on. And that is not “reviving hopes long since rendered obsolete” as you so boorishly state.

Gregg Schroeder Richfield

Mpeterson said...

I was completely unaware that "neo-conservative" was name calling. It is in popular currency among so-called conservatives... maybe a column in another few weeks on the historical distinction would be a good idea.

But as for Mr. Schroeder's missing the point -- my fault entirely -- the question isn't whether Christmas is celebrated everywhere in the world, my living room included, but whether the government of the United States should acknowledge it in law. The Constitution explicitly says no.

People who want to argue about this are wasting their time, and ours.

Sorry if I wasn't clearer.


Anonymous said...

I found your followup comment when asked about the term "neo-conservative" at the Glenn Grothman site very helpful in understanding what it means - I never saw it defined as such. It seems like 95% of the people who use that term are totally clueless as to what it means. I suggest that you condense those comments & use them as the basis for a future column in the Daily News.


Mpeterson said...

Thanks. It's in the works. :^).

I'm still not sure whether I should be surprised that neoconservatives themselves don't know the origins of their own political point of view.