Kulturkampf, 2004


On pages 11 and 14 of this issue Tom Hayden and Carol Burke recall the culture wars of the Vietnam era, which live on in the odd, enduring hatred of Jane Fonda by conservative vets. The image of "Hanoi Jane" was insinuated into the 2004 presidential race in the form of a doctored photo showing Fonda sharing the stage with John Kerry at an antiwar rally (inspiring our own, less subtle attempts at deception-via-Photoshop in this issue). The stunt was carried out by conservatives trying to discredit Kerry for his antiwar activity following combat in Vietnam, in part to offset George W.'s growing reputation as a slacker who shirked his National Guard duties. The Hanoi Jane smear plays on stereotypes of war opponents, then and now, as morally corrupt, weakening the nation's martial will with their permissiveness and promiscuity. It is no coincidence that such images have surfaced now that the President has announced his support for a constitutional amendment defending the "sanctity of marriage" and as issues like abortion and religion loom large in the 2004 election.

If a new culture war has been joined, however, it's taking place on an altered battlefield. Republicans learned the lessons of 1992, when Pat Buchanan's declaration of a cultural and religious war turned off libertarians, minorities, suburban women and moderates. Thus in 2004, Karl Rove is aiming for a delicate balance between "compassionate conservatism" and appeals to Passion of the Christ-lovers. He'd like to build a coalition of evangelicals, traditional Catholics and Rugged-Cross Protestants in states like West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio--without provoking distress in affluent, socially liberal suburbs.

Democrats are nonetheless right to charge that Bush is instigating a culture war to change the subject from the actual war, which is not going so well, not to mention the stumbling economy. …

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