So the election is over, but the culture war, clearly, is not. Shrill keenings & cries of woe from poetry bloggers on every side. Joseph Duemer one of the more articulate ones among those I've seen.

Politics in America is, or has been, mostly a two-party struggle for power. The struggle involves framing issues & concerns, sharpening differences. It's a mistake, though, simply to take the partisan frames at face value, and impose them on the portion of the electorate that voted differently from you. Guess what, people in the red states are complex animals too; some of them may be even less like "true believers", chanting partisan mantras & slogans, than you are. Imagine: some of them may be reasonable, intelligent people.

Why should I accept that? you ask. They swallowed the vicious right-wing propaganda, the kultur-kampf which has been strengthening on the right for decades. They don't share my values, you say.

Actually I think it's more complicated. The story of the 2-party system is not a matter of decades, but of more than a century. The Republican Party has been an organized force to reckon with since the Civil War. Yes, it failed the country at the time of the Depression; yes, it followed Nixon into 8 more years of war in Vietnam & Cold War support for repressive regimes around the world; yes, it made a devil's pact with the southern bigots & Dixiecrats in an attempt to turn back racial justice; yes, it followed Reagan's hard right ideology into a new conservative era. This is a reactionary record, and that's the reason I've voted Democrat since I came of age.

But guess what: the Republican Party has also stood for some positive things, during various periods of American history. Two in particular: freedom (against slavery; against tyranny) and reform (particularly under the 1st Roosevelt). And many of the voters in the red states have affiliations with that party going back generations. Democrats love to mock the "values" orientation of their opponents, seeing them as manipulated pawns, trapped by their own reactionary, "atavistic" religious beliefs. But when a majority of them said "values" was the deciding issue, it may be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this was simply homophobia. I think a lot of church-going red-state voters were deeply offended by the morals of the Democrats' vaunted standard-bearer, Bill Clinton; I was offended myself to see the Oval Office turned into a porn site. & there was Bill, out campaigning for Kerry - a slick, ambitious, & opportunistic issue-spinner. When Republicans told pollsters that "values" were the pivotal issue, some of them were saying that while they were troubled by the economy and Iraq, in the end they decided that Kerry wouldn't make things much better on those fronts anyway, and that at least Bush set an example of personal integrity & decency, which they didn't think Kerry & his rich celebrity friends could ever do.

I believe the Republican right's socio-religious platform is deeply Macchiavellian and uncharitable - victimizing - at its core. And this must be opposed. But Joe Duemer's analysis - that Democrats are enlightened free-thinking non-religious persons, while Republicans are backward, superstitious bigots, and we share no values, and we must sharpen the differences between the parties almost on a theological level... I think this is a strategy for further widening of the culture divide, more polarization, more stereotyping, and ultimately more ignorance and misunderstanding.

The Democrats who will remake their party are those who actually understand and in some cases share the traditional religious background and value-system of the other side; it is they who will be able to interpret history and politics and economics for the electorate, in a way that doesn't demean or deny their religious beliefs, but which challenges that reactionary, deeply uncharitable, partisan spin, which feeds parasitically on those values from the far right. I am not saying that Democrats must follow Republicans into some kind of hypocritical religious pandering. (I live in Rhode Island, for Roger Williams' sake!) I'm saying that it is probably those on the left who have at least a "liberal", non-judgmental awareness of the role of religious belief in human society, who know something about the foundations of Western faith-systems - it is these people who will be able to challenge the religious bigots on their own ground, and suggest a different set of foundational values for a just and free civic order.

At this point I should say, to be brave & foolish, that after standing in the polling booth for at least 10 minutes, I voted for Bush. My reason for doing so, despite my complete rejection of many of the Republican positions on social issues, the economy, and the environment, was because I think we are actually doing the right thing in Iraq. But that's a debate we've had before in this corner of the blogosphere, and I am not going to get into it now. I suppose I've lost about 35% of my blog audience by saying this (2 people, I reckon).

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