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Culture Wars Redux

According to a posting on Wikipedia, the term “tea party” has a very different meaning than popularized by the reactionary political movement. It states:

To tea bag is a slang term for the act of a man placing his scrotum in the mouth of a sexual partner. The practice resembles dipping a tea bag into a cup of tea when it is done in a repeated in-and-out motion. As a form of non- penetrative sex, it can be done for its own enjoyment or as foreplay.

Now that the smoke has cleared in the recent 2010 Congressional elections, we have an opportunity to assess the likely impact of the recently elected Tea Party-backed Congresspersons on sexuality-related politics. Most likely, we will see a return to the anti-sex climate that defined the “culture wars” of the good-old Bush era.

During the fall campaign, most Tea Party-backed activists and candidates attempted to avoid culture wars issues. They sought to keep issues like abortion, gay marriage, teen sex education, “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” and stem-cell research at an arms-length’s-distance in their organizing efforts. Knowing full well that the majority of Americans reject conservative Christian values, the Tea Party campaigned against the Obama health care program, personal taxes, the federal debt and the “tyranny” of Washington. And, for the most part, they were successful.

The Tea Party incorporates three parallel but divergent reactionary tendencies. First, it includes “small government” libertarians who oppose “big government” spending, high personal taxes and the rising federal debt; some “libertarians” support personal rights and oppose rightwing Christian values. Second, it includes a sizable “nativists” tendency, those who share a deep racists fear of the “other,” be it of African Americans or non-white immigrants, even some promoting staunch neo-fascist and Klan-like violence. And third, the Christian conservative right lives on as a mainstay, adhering to “biblical” and patriarchal values. It remains to be seen if this coalition will hold as some of its representatives now have political power and must govern.

* * *

Tea Party-backed Republican candidates won five Senate elections in 2010: Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY), Marco Rubio (FL) and Pat Toomey (PA). Their respective positions on key “culture” issues illustrate their likely positions when they take their seats in January. Information drawn from ontheissues.org, People for the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch” and other sources.

Johnson: He is a “pro-life” advocate who opposes federal abortion funding and supports giving legal protection to the fetus. He defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Lee: He opposes Roe and believes that states should protect the “rights” of the unborn fetus. He also opposes gay marriage and gays in the military.

Paul: He believes that life begins at conception and opposes federal abortion funding. He also opposes same-sex marriage and supports a Constitutional Amendment to prevent same-sex marriage.

Rubio: He opposes Roe v. Wade, denying women a right to privacy; requires women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion; and supports giving legal protection to the fetus. He also supports prohibiting human embryonic stem-cell research. He backs a Constitutional Amendment to prevent same-sex marriage.

Toomey: He is “pro-life” (i.e., anti-choice) and supports making it a crime to harm a fetus while committing a crime. He supports banning partial-birth abortions except to save the mother’s life. He is in favor of a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage.

These new Senators will only intensify the Christian right’s influence.

Tea Party-identified Republicans won forty new Congressional seats in 2010 and they share much with their Senate colleagues, but are often more reactionary. The positions of a sample of ten recently-elected Congress-persons illustrate the various positions held by Tea Party Republicans on culture issues.

Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25): She was the local spokeswoman for Operation Rescue and is a strong opponent of a woman’s right to an abortion. Most remarkable, her campaign website as well as her various interviews are noticeably absent from any serious discussion of culture war issues.
Francisco “Quico” Canseco (TX-23): A banker/lawyer, he says that he not a Tea Party member but a staunch conservative who opposes abortion rights even in cases of rape and incest.

Bill Flores (TX-17): He is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage: “there is one definition of marriage and that is between one man and one woman” and he will “stand firm against any effort to change this or force Texas to recognize ‘gay marriages’ in other states.”

Tim Griffin (AK-2): A Carl Rove protégé, he opposes equal rights for women and a woman’s right to choose. He supports a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage, supports an employers right to fire an employee due to their sexual orientation and backs the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Vicky Hartzler (MO-4): As spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri, she supports discrimination against gays and lesbians. She is a fierce opponent of abortion rights and backed a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to view their sonograms. She proposed legislation that would charge women with murder who received late-term abortions and charge doctors who performed the procedure with second-degree murder.

Raul Labrador (ID-1): He supports making the federal government “provide for the presence of God in the public domain,” supports the ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers serving in the military and opposes same-sex marriage. He opposes abortion in all cases, supports a medical professional refusing to provide contraceptives and supports tougher measures for women seeking to terminate their pregnancy.

Jon Runyan (NJ-3) – This former professional football player opposes gay marriage, yet it took a moderate position on Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, saying the decision is ultimately up to military leaders. He is also more moderate than most Tea Party-backed Republicans in that he supports abortion but, as he says, only “with a lot of restrictions” and wants to make getting an abortion “as hard as possible.”

Tim Scott (SC-1): This African American defeated the son of one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond to become the first black candidate since Reconstruction to represent South Carolina. He believes in “the sanctity of traditional marriage between a man and a woman and opposes gay marriage.” He supports the DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Tim Walberg (MI-7): He opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape or incest, and has promoted legislation ending federal support for all forms of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization.

Allen West (FL-22): Is the first black Republican elected to Congress from Florida since a former slave, Josiah Walls, served two terms in the 1870s. West, a retired Army officer, resigned from the military while facing a court martial over the brutal interrogation of an Iraqi man. He supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He opposes a woman’s right to choose an abortion “except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” accusing pro-choice groups of “promot[ing] abortion as a means of birth control.”

This new crop of Tea Party-backed Congress-persons will only empower the rightwing, Know-Nothing tendencies already dominant within the Republican caucus.

* * *

In March 1875, Susan B. Anthony delivered a speech in Chicago entitled, “Social Purity,” in which she bemoaned the state of women’s lives: “The tap-root of our social problem lies deep down at the very foundations of society. It is women’s dependence. It is women’s subjection. Hence, the first and only efficient work must be to emancipate woman from her enslavement.”

Anthony spoke for many who saw male drunkenness, female physical abuse, prostitution and syphilis among a growing number of threats posed to women and the family by modern urban life. During the late-19th century and into the 1920s, “social purity” activists promoted sexual chastity to fight female prostitution, birth control and sex education. Social purists were most threatened by the “new woman” with her wages, education, shorter skirts, bathing suits, lipstick, cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking and vote. (Today, anti-abortion advocates run a PAC in Anthony’s name to help anti-choice female Congressional candidates.)

When the new Congress is seated in January 2011, we are likely to see a renewed effort by the Christian right to impose their social purity agenda. Such a campaign is underway at the state level throughout the country. (See “The New Abortion Wars: Recalling the Lessons of the 1920s“, CounterPunch, June 25 – 27, 2010”.)

The Christian right faces a major defeat with the likely military and Congressional repudiation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This defeat, however, may only embolden the right’s other social purity efforts.

Foremost will be a likely campaign to overcoming Roe and further restrict a woman’s right to choose an abortion. These might include requiring a pregnant woman to view her sonogram, removal of the exception to save a mother’s life with regard to a partial-birth abortion, seeking some form of legal protection for the unborn fetus or making it a federal crime to harm a fetus while committing a crime. We might see a re-commitment to the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between one man and one woman or the backing of a Constitutional Amendment to prevent same sex marriage. We might also see a federal effort in support of medical professionals who refuse to provide contraceptives. Further restrictions on stem-cell research funding can be anticipated.

With a cautious president in the White House and hobbled Democratic legislators in the Congress, a return to the good-old bad days of Bush era culture wars may well be what awaits America in 2011.

DAVID ROSEN is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009). He can be reached at drosen@ix.netcom.com.

 

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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