Over the centuries many art critics have provided trenchant insights into their culture. Today such people are most often conservatives, perhaps because their viewpoint is so alien to the liberal or leftist ideologies dominant in the West’s artistic communities. Two leading examples are the Canadian Mark Steyn and James Bowman.
Here is an excerpt which moves from its subject onto wider and even more interesting terrain (as his essay’s so often do). I recommend clicking on the link to read it in full.
“The Choice of Sarah Palin“, James Bowman, The New Criterion, 31 October 2008 — Excerpt:
It may seem odd, at first, that the unbending, hard-line “pro-choice” attitude to abortion adopted by so many feminists of a generation now deprived by nature of their “reproductive rights” came to its present position of political importance just when it did. For that was at the same moment in our cultural history, the early 1970s, when the only good reason for legalized abortion apart from mere personal preference — namely, the social stigma attaching to single motherhood — was on its way, very rapidly, out. Who could imagine such a cruel, unenlightened approach to female sexuality today as the one which was all-but universal up until the 1960s?
And yet some very enlightened people in the media and the Democratic party would have been happy for an ad hoc re-scandalizing of illegitimacy when it was revealed, the day after John McCain’s electrifying announcement of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his choice for the Republican vice-presidential nomination, that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant.
Of course it wouldn’t do for them to call this teenager a slut and a hussy, but they were pretty sure that there must be something in her interesting condition which would allow them to accuse her mother, a conservative evangelical Christian, of hypocrisy. Or something.
… For the most part, the left was forced to move on to its factitious outrage at the hopeful vice-president’s relatively brief experience in high office – though this might have been thought extremely shaky ground for the backers of a hopeful president who was a first-term senator with no executive experience at all. But at least one person, Carol Fowler, chairman of the Democratic party of South Carolina, tried with rather more wit than the Sullivanites to bring back sex by noting Senator McCain had chosen a running-mate “whose primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.” Of course, poor Ms Fowler was forced to apologize – and for the same reason any Republican who had dared to complain of how Hillary Clinton’s chief qualification for the presidency was that she hasn’t divorced Bill Clinton would have been forced to apologize. Even the feminists, their noses put very considerably out of joint by the nomination of a conservative Republican to a national ticket ahead of their gal Hillary, would not stand for such a slight offered to a woman in power.
Yet, as is so often the case, the sayers of the unsayable had a point. I happen not to agree that not having an abortion was Governor Palin’s primary qualification, but who can doubt that it was a qualification – as was her basketball-playing, beauty-queening, moose-killing and hockey-momming. A man with her qualifications could have been no more eligible for the Republican nomination for vice president than a middle-class white man with Senator Obama’s qualifications could have been eligible for the Democratic nomination for president. But what, as I have said, is the point in trying to make a scandal out of that?
On all sides, this is proving to be even more of a symbolic election than the last one, just as the last one was more symbolic than the election before it. If you’re in the business of symbolism – as, willy-nilly, our politicians and their handlers are nowadays – you’d better get used to it and stop being outraged that the electorate aren’t paying attention to “the issues.” There are no issues to pay attention to anyway, since both candidates are, as the media now force them to be, utopians who believe that the job to which they aspire is to put all that’s wrong with the world – thank you, George W. Bush! – to rights again.
… If there’s one thing we can be sure that John McCain – or anybody else – won’t do and couldn’t do if he wanted to, even though he may indeed want to, it’s to make abortion illegal. Nothing would happen. Or almost nothing. There might be a few fetuses at the margins who are suffered to live and who otherwise wouldn’t be as more restrictions are placed on the availability of abortion in the most conservative states, but those will come with or without a McCain presidency.
In fact, given the inevitable fillip to local Republicans of an Obama victory, they are more likely to come without it than with it. At no time in the foreseeable future will a woman who is determined to have an abortion be unable to obtain one in the United States of America, and that is a legacy not of the Burger court but of an earlier sort of symbolism pioneered by the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s who found that the libertarian message of “choice” was far more effective with the electorate (and the judiciary!) than the neo-Marxist one, still preached by doctrinaire feminism, of women’s “oppression” by men.
For abortion became legal not only at the same time that illegitimacy and pre-marital sex learned to hold their heads up high but also at the same time that conscription was ended and the armed forces were instructed that henceforth they would have to be manned – and, increasingly, womanned – by volunteers. I think that the two developments are closely related. Child-bearing has traditionally been thought of as a defining act for women, just as military service has been for men. This way of looking at the world is built into all honor cultures we know of, wherever we find them. They regard men’s honor as flowing from bravery in battle and women’s from chastity before marriage and fertility (and fidelity) after it.
But America’s honor culture, like that of the Western world generally, had been under assault since the 1920s, and the catastrophic defeat of a conscript army in Vietnam finally finished it off. Roe v. Wade and the all-volunteer (i.e. pro-choice) army – both dating from 1973, the year of America’s withdrawal of her last combat troops from Vietnam – were therefore both symbolic repudiations of those traditional expectations of womanhood and manhood.
As a culture we remain strongly attached to this symbolism. So strongly indeed that, 35 years later, there remains as little prospect of a return to conscription as there is of a return to criminalized abortion, although every now and then the idea (of the former, not the latter) is brought out and dusted off again, as Time magazine did, under the guise of “national service,” the week after Governor Palin’s nomination.
FM posts about Gov Palin
Al Fin says in comment #7:
Sarah Palin is accustomed to being underestimated, and the leftist bleatings from this year’s campaign fit into the same mould. Watching the pseudo-intellectual boobs inventing fantasies about Palin and presenting them as fact was one of the most entertaining aspects of the entire season.
That’s one perspective, but it does not fit what we saw during the campaign:
McCain believes we are stupid. Is he correct?, 30 August 2008 — What does choosing Palin say about McCain? Esp note the intense discussion in the comments.
- Alaska is near Russia, and Gov Palin’s other foreign policy experience, 1 September 2008
- It’s is not just McCain who believes we’re dumb – it’s a crowd, 3 September 2008
- Governor Palin as an archetype for our time, 9 September 2008
- Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?, 12 September 2008 — Notes from Palin’s first interview.
- Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008 — More from the ABC interview.
- Campaign Update – news from the front, 25 September 2008 — Includes part 1 of Couric’s interview of Palin.
- Gov Palin speaks about foreign policy, 26 September 2008 — Part 2 of Couric’s interview.
- Republican and conservative critics of Gov Palin, 2 November 2008 — see section 2.
- Comment about “turkey-gate”, 23 November 2008
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Posts on the FM site about American politics:
The USA *after* this financial crisis – part I, about politics, 13 October 2008
What happens to the Republican Party after the election?, 2 November 2008
America’s elites reluctantly impose a client-patron system, 5 November 2008
Immigration as a reverse election: our leaders get a new people, 6 November 2008
R.I.P., G.O.P. – a well-deserved end, 7 November 2008
America gets ready for new leadership (or is it back to the future?), 14 November 2008
Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?, 19 November 2008