Remember when during the 2008 primary election candidate Barack Obama argued that his selection as the Democratic nominee would mean that we’d get past all of the kulturkampfen waged by aging hippies and College Republican Baby Boomers still stuck in the 1960s? Indeed, it was central to his appeal, and he played it up. For example, here’s his speech “The America We Love,” June 30, 2008:
Still, what is striking about today’s patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s – in arguments that go back forty years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned the wisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic. Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself – by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day
Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views – these caricatures of left and right. . . .
Given the enormous challenges that lie before us, we can no longer afford these sorts of divisions. None of us expect that arguments about patriotism will, or should, vanish entirely; after all, when we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America’s common spirit.
No Red America, no Blue America, just the United States of America &c., so long as you rid us of the horrible, horrible Clintons, who after all are the only reason we’re stuck in these bogus culture wars. Yeah, good times! (Some of his more foolish admirers even claimed in print that ending the culture wars would be his “greatest feat.”)
I never believed Obama at the time, but I sure wish he had been right about getting over the 1960s already. As Leonard Pitts wrote recently, the Republican primary this year suggests that we’re all in danger of becoming Mad Men-era reenactors. I already feel like a reenactor when I hear contraception being called bad for women, or serious legislation requiring the medical rape of women. Or, really, any conversations among politicians involving the word “transvaginal” at all.