Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Democrats and the culture wars

Dan Gerstein, a Lieberman campaign staffer, argues that Democrats are not well-served by their loving embrace and vigorous defense of everything Hollywood stands for and produces. Here’s a representative snippet:

[Democrats should] follow the lead of Hillary Clinton, who is making the progressive case for cultural responsibility better than anyone. Cynics tried to dismiss her recent speech on the issue as pre-presidential positioning. But the fact is that Sen. Clinton has been strong and steady in her advocacy for overwhelmed parents ever since coming to Washington. She’s been smart, too: She does not demonize cultural producers, overstate the extent of the problem, or let parents off the hook. She frames the culture’s influence as a public-health issue as much as a moral one, and cites research showing the potentially harmful effects of screen sex and violence. And she is honest about the limits of that research, which is why she has joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman in introducing a bill to fund more studies of the electronic media’s impact on children.

The problem with this argument is precisely its recommendation that moral questions be couched in terms of "public health." Not all moral judgments are consequentialist, and not all the "average mothers in the exurbs of Georgia or Colorado" to which Gerstein--himself a "regular consumer of provocative entertainment"--condescends are simply thinking about untoward behavioral and medical consequences. Though I’m not an exurban mother and though I occasionally "consume" what at least I regard as provocative entertainment (Gerstein’s level of toleration or threshold of enjoyment may be somewhat higher; I don’t know), it is precisely beliefs and not just behavior that I care about. Gerstein talks about this, but then seems to think that what should matter most is behavior, which should, I guess, be regulated by some sort of public health (that is, for the most part morally neutral) norm. If this is as close as Democrats can come to getting it--meeting cultural conservatives on a behavioral ground, while only favoring the promotion and enforcement of essentially "politically correct" beliefs--it’s going to be a long time before they get to redecorate the Oval Office.

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Frank Rich’s columns often leave me shaking with rage. I am a mother of three who is horrified at the prospect of the society Rich champions becoming even more widespread.

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