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American Cultural Conservatives: Still Losing the War

I was in Mexico City on November 6th, at a big international meeting where everyone seemed to be watching the US election with their breath held.  Just as the media announced Obama had won, an email popped up on my Blackberry from my daughter Liza in San Francisco:

My message to Mitt Romney in this, his moment of defeat:  “Just an FYI, American voting age women outnumber American voting age men. Don’t alienate your audience, buddy.”

BAM!!!  We win!!!  HUZZAH!!!

My reproductive rights are safe for another four years. The system, mostly, works.

Also, first openly gay senator Tammy Baldwin! Hey, Paul Ryan! Cry about it!! HA!!! If things keep goin’ this way, someday ALL of my friends will be able to get married!!

I’m thrilled.  Woot!

And then she went out with her girlfriends and her gay friends to celebrate.

Next morning, I had a note from a gay friend, another expat, signed “In haste, with glee about Obama in the White House, Elizabeth Warren in Mass, Colorado staying blue, same-sex marriage in Maine, and the fact that all the nail-biting was worth it.”

That afternoon, after a harrowing brush with an earthquake, I hopped on a plane to Austin to visit my mother and sister.  Late in the night, Kathy and I nursed a bottle of wine and mused about the election and the Republicans’ attack on reproductive rights. At one point, she turned to me and said, in that distinctive drawl Texas Democrats have, “I don’t know what they’re thinkin’.  You cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

My mother told me, with an almost adolescent delight in rebellion, how all the Democrats in her retirement community (all five of them), had watched the election results together, gloating as a group in the victory over “old farts” everywhere.

And indeed it did seem the old farts took it on the chin this time. Two states even legalized recreational marijuana (Colorado and Washington). (This information in an email from Jim, who would like to move now, thank you very much.)

One thing I observed in the research for Fresh Lipstick. For 150 years–at least–there has been a struggle, along roughly generational lines, about sexual and recreational freedom in America.  Every generation pushes against the moral standards of their parents, causing an unsuccessful clamp-down.  That same generation turns around and, shocked at the behavior of their children, tries–again mostly without fruit–to enact sanctions.  In retrospect, every parent generation looks absurdly puritanistic and paranoid, precisely because the younger generation consistently prevails. And, equally consistently, this intolerance on the sexual and recreational front is lined up with intolerance for gender, race, class, religion, and sexual orientation.  It’s like a fugue that plays down through the generations.

In the moment, it has often looked pretty bleak.  Amid the flappers and flasks of the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had their biggest growth period.  When we think of the 1960s as this wild and crazy, carefree time,  we would do well to remember the National Guard opening fire on unarmed students at Kent State.  Even so, when you take the long view, you can clearly see that, as I always say to Jim, “They may win a few battles, some of them important, but they are losing the war.”

These old guys who ground the Republican party are the same guys who tried to block integration of the schools, who sent a generation of young men to Viet Nam, who killed the Equal Rights Amendment. There isn’t much time left on the clock for them.  And they are still losing the war.


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