Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert I: Bush Vs. Decency

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My Culture Complex in the print TIME is a little redundant for readers of this blog, as it’s about the court decision overruling the FCC on “fleeting expletives,” which we already chewed over on Tuesday. My magazine column, though, focuses more on the irony of Bush and Cheney, who came to office on the shoulders of “values voters,” being cited in a decision to allow f-word outbursts on TV.

The argument over what content the FCC should regulate aside, the whole business shows the hazards of casting your vote in the belief that an Administration can somehow make American culture more moral (however you define “moral”):

Maybe this situation will finally point out what a swindle it is to argue that electing one man can somehow change the moral character of a nation. Pop culture is king in America, and it laughs at the feeble efforts of mere politicians to change it. This Administration can hold as many prayer breakfasts and cover as much bare-breasted statuary as it wants, it has still presided over the society that produced Joe Millionaire, the Saw movies and 50 Cent.

This argument, I realize, probably has a little something in common with the thesis of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? I say “probably” because I haven’t actually read the book, but I’ve often enough heard its argument, about the bait-and-switch pulled on socially-conservative voters: they vote for social conservatism, they actually get economic conservatism.

Politicians aren’t going to stop running for office on a culture-war platform anytime soon. But it’s worth remembering that in a political culture war, the culture usually beats the politicians.