on palin street: where the old civil war is pronounced, “culture war.”

Dear Readers,

Folks are wanting to read about Palin. Okay, I got your back on that. Did you ever wonder what the fuck a culture war was? I got your back on that too.


on palin street: where the old civil war is pronounced the new “culture war”
okay, so sarah palin didn’t tank the vp “debate,” and she is pulling adoring crowds across bible belt, america. shit, in some ways i even dig her. i betcha my mom does too. cuz she’s got spunk. here’s what else she’s got. sarah palin has a civil war bone to pick. and so do her supporters, the militia moms and the joe sawed-off’s of main street.

remember when palin gave that speech at the republican national convention? remember how it catapulted her into a central figure in the presidential spectrum? the day after her speech, the follow the leader pack that is the bulk of american media reported, “Palin Reignites Culture War” (Newsweek, Oct 3), “Sarah Palin Sparks Revival of the Culture War” (U.S. News and World Report, Sept 23), “The Culture War: It’s Back” (Salon.com, Sept 15).

so what is this “culture war”?

the culture war emerges on the american political and academic scene during the late 1960’s and then again in the early 1990’s.

culture war version one: the late 1960’s battle for (more than one) ethnic studies

this culture war movement evolved out of the civil rights movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. the premise: academia was perceived by many to be eurocentric to a fault, at the expense of quality education in any field. this singular ethnocentricity, focused on the ideas emanating from or appropriated by one generalized group, was challenged by the ethnic studies movement. the ethnic studies movement sought inclusion of races, genders, and pop culture into the academic landscape (course offerings, departments, teaching positions, degree options). a defining moment in this culture war came in 1968, when the black student union at san francisco state university conducted the longest student strike in the nation’s history in their fight for ethnic studies inclusion on campus.

culture war version two: the early 1990’s conservative declaration of a moral war

two decades later, the culture war idea re-emerges with the reagan-era conservative movement. it is most definitively marked by pat buchanan’s “culture war speech” delivered at the 1990 republican national convention. buchanan spoke of the culture war as describing two clashing definitions of right and wrong. he said that the cold war was over and the culture wars were at hand with public morality at stake. then, in 1991, author james davidson hunter comes out with the book, “culture wars: the struggle to define america.” hunter and buchanan agreed on their premise—that there were two definable polarities on hot button issues: abortion, gay rights, gun politics, the separation of church and state, civil rights, free market capitalism. and, according to these conservative mouthpieces, the two polarities never really met or mixed. to get a sense of where we are now, it makes sense to reflect on the ultra-rights derision of “the unwisdom” of a “radical left aided by a cultural elite that detests christianity.”

culture war version three: palin and the new civil war

the sunday new york times opinion section featured an article on the new culture war by frank rich. rich reported with some alarm an emboldened american racism and the growing call for obama blood at palin rallies. he writes of “the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin,” and through her slurs, “the rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete.” according to the article, it just doesn’t fit a presidential or VP candidate to instigate this anti-muslim lynch mob tide.

and check out what rich uncovered about a “disconcerting” quote used by palin to hail small town america in her pivotal RNC speech. rich found out that the quote was from a man named westbrook pegler, a man famous for “his anti-Semitism, racism and violent rhetorical excess.” for example, here’s what mid-century columnist pegler phrased his death wish for bobby kennedy, “Some white patriot of the Southern tier will splatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow falls.”

said to have re-ignited in 2004, and heavily re-entering the national narrative post-palin’s recent RNC speech, it is clear that the current “culture war” is the new civil war. it is a epic battle on all fronts–spiritual, moral, legal, intellectual, political, economic, generational. it is a near secession movement, a split between two groups, each trying to hold onto their ways of life.

yesterday, hundreds of people in the bay area were present for the annual indigenous peoples day sunrise ceremony at alcatraz. yesterday in new york city hundreds turned out for the columbus day parade in little italy. columbus day in the usa.

columbus and his crew sailed around the world but best selling author thomas friedman said the world was flat. and so the civil war of yesterday is the global split of today. on one hand a global north of experts and benevolence and solutions. on the other, a rising respect for the heretofore infantilized, commodified global south (“emerging,” “developing,” and always, a “market”).

the world is flat. its as flat as the bottom of my brooklyn pre-war apartment’s black porcelain sink and and america is the drain. the forty different races and ethnicities in my high school made us just one sight in a nation sprinkled with similarly diverse and defacto U.N.’s.

the global north and global south are no doubt watching as we, the diplomatic delegations, the new civil war soldiers in the flat global field, fight out yet another battle in the age old clash between control and freedom. equality and dominance.

the battle for the american presidency is but another, albeit crucial, continuance of human beings figuring out how to govern ourselves, feed ourselves, and be with each other in this poignantly beautiful, mortal, world.

peace from your favorite political poet,


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